'Achieving Mastery': an evolved grounded theory of Lead Learners' views on feedback and assessment
Assessment and feedback are acknowledged as significant influences in pupils’ learning at all levels of education (Hattie & Timperley, 2007), yet there is growing debate about whether feedback, in particular, is given in a way that is effective, constructive and timely enough for pupils to act on it (Winstone & Boud, 2020). Certainly, many pupils view feedback as 'problematic' and 'challenging' and as something they struggle to understand and use (Hopfenbeck, 2020). Although identified as an important concept, there is limited research examining how pupils themselves perceive and use feedback, especially in secondary education contexts (Finch & Willis, 2020; Quinlan & Pitt, 2021), where it is reportedly a lower-level priority for school leaders (Ofsted, 2015). This thesis sought to address this notable gap in the literature by exploring young people's views and experiences of assessment and feedback in key stage three (KS3) within one secondary school in England. Moreover, as few educational studies to date have privileged the voices of young people in this area, particularly those considered ‘high achieving’ (Smit, 2013; Smith & Campbell, 2016), this research focused on the experiences of ‘Lead Learners’, which is the name given to high achieving pupils within the specific school context. The study took place at a secondary academy situated in the heart of South-West England, in which the author of this study worked as a full-time practitioner. Informal conversations combined with unstructured and semi-structured interviewing between March 2018 and July 2020 with KS3 Lead Learners (n=12) helped to encapsulate their engagement with feedback and assessment in the school’s Mastery Curriculum. As part of an iterative process of simultaneous data collection and analysis, techniques and procedures specific to Corbin and Strauss’ (2015) evolved version of grounded theory were used, which identified and developed concepts in conjunction with bringing context and process into the analysis. Towards the latter stages of the analysis, categories were carefully integrated to form a substantive grounded theory titled: “Achieving Mastery (core category): self-managing our response to feedback (major process).”
Findings from this study indicate that in their quest to overcome problematic situations with feedback and assessment to “Achieve Mastery,” Lead Learners self-managed their response to feedback. As ‘savvy’ student agents, and in various novel ways, Lead Learners: challenged their teachers’ feedback; networked with their teachers’ and peers’; carried out Mastery research, made use of learning resources; and assessed how to respond to feedback (major processes) to develop their feedback literacy and, most importantly, create an understanding of what “Mastery” looked like. As literature in this area has, to date, largely focused on students in higher education (Carless & Winstone, 2020; Malecka, Boud & Carless, 2020; Chan & Luo, 2022), the findings of this research are highly significant in that they show KS3 students to be capable of self-managing their response to feedback. In discussing the implications of this for practice, it is recommended that teachers work with their students to appreciate how they understand and use feedback so that they might better support the development of feedback literacy and facilitate students’ growth as ‘savvy’, independent agents.
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