The irrepressible Kristian Still, like the immense Tom Bennett, write about how they offer every student in their class the aspiration for an A grade. This is every student. They use data as rigorously as anyone, holding themselves and other accountable for the progress of students. But they make they demystify the A grade, and talk about it in terms something that is achievable with incredibly hard work.

Of course, some students struggle in mainstream schooling, and aim for P-levels and the like. But a huge majority of students are capable of achieving A-grade work. They might not achieve that work under exam conditions, and they might not achieve that work on a regular basis (it is rare that a student does, and even then those students who do are aiming for A*s).

The kind of intervention to push students to A grade work involves 1 to 1 teaching with expert intervention. Of course teachers do not have the time (or in many cases the energy) to deliver that kind of intervention. Last year I had 63 students across two exam classes producing (sometimes) between 500 and 1,000 words of marking. Now, though, I am blessed with a smaller exam class, and inclination to aspire to greater than I have done before.

If money was no object, and success was a certain, how would students be best guided to improve? The progression of marking in a teacher from NQT can be summarised as follows:

Marking assessments thoroughly with formative comments that are fairly generic in nature (but seem specific to parents and the NQT).
Making assessments with more specific formative comments (from experience).
Marking formatively with comments more regularly (often in phrases rather than blocks of text).
Marking formatively with comments that students track themselves on a centralised sheet (often relating to overarching criteria, which is usually unadulterated).
Marking formatively against personalised criteria via rubrics (rapid, offering specific target setting for trained students).
From this point follows a variety of marking practices involving icons and ‘wwwt’ (what’s wrong with this, where students have to respond with what they thought was wrong).

Despite this progression, it is rare to see students compelled to respond to feedback. Even in schools rated Outstanding by Ofsted, marking still seems to be parents or observers, rather than necessarily for students (and this is from expert teachers with enviable records and personas). This is the point – when students respond to diagnostic feedback – at which I think students make the most rapid improvement. And to do this they need to respond to diagnostic feedback that is both rapid (within a week) and specific (a SMART target).

For a student to make exceptional/outstanding progress, they have to respond to several targets over a period of time. And these targets need to relate to different aspects of the work (some requiring reflection, and some requiring changing).

As a teacher, I normally allow one edit for a substantial piece of work alongside my regular marking workload (averaging ten hours a week). However, I believe that for a student to exceed beyond expectations, they need to have the ability to respond to regular, rapid comments responded to at the students’ pace. Ideally, there would be a point that the student would reach a point of A-gradeness and would reflect, or where the student chooses to complete a different task.

As a teacher who has seen the mental fatigue set in for many students, there might be a fear that a student will respond to mandatory drafts for improvement with apathy at best and antagonism at worse. There might be a fear that a student is being hothoused, and that their push to improvement either leads to superficial learning at best, or mental fatigue and breakdown at worst. Therefore, the purpose behind such rigorous drafting must be shared, and agreed, with each student: they should understand that such a process involves them going beyond expectations.

The question is, how should a teacher expect to manage such a drafting process? My marking workload currently involves students placing their marking into a large plastic wallet, me marking (and scanning where apt for target-response practice) and then returning. For students to improve drafts repeatedly, there should be an expectation that they can receive feedback within a week (48 hours ideally). However, the mechanics of marking and returning exist outside the routines that should have been established do not allow me to easily monitor, and therefore motivate, such redrafting.

Therefore, I propose that using an asynchronous feedback process using, in the first instance, Google docs. I have written a project proposal below, and will provide examples as they arrive. I suspect that my students will have to produce something using laptops in class initially, and I will then streamline the process.

Asynchronous Diagnostic Marking (c) 2013 The Quill Guy