Improving feedback for assessments

Basingstoke College of Technology (BCoT)

This project aimed to explore whether feedback could be improved for GCSE and ESOL written tasks using a software extension called Mote. We predominantly chose a cohort of 16-19 year old GCSE resit learners for the GCSE research group. The ESOL group was a cohort of adults completing an ESOL Entry Level 2 Skills for Life qualification.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Our intention was to identify a digital approach for GCSE and ESOL learners that would work for learner feedback, development and target setting. Learners do not often read the feedback provided in their books, or after assessments, and written feedback is very time consuming (we have over 100 learners each). We intended to create a digital learning feedback journal using Mote software. This tool allows teachers to add voice comments to Google documents. We were intending for learners to listen to the teacher feedback and then reflect and record what their next steps were.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. It took place in the English department of our FE college, where we worked with two groups of 16-19 full time GCSE learners and one part time class of adult ESOL Entry Level 2 learners. GCSE learners were using the feedback given to set targets and understand any gaps in their learning. ESOL learners used the same feedback tool but were also able to read the transcript and then translate into their chosen language. BCoT has embraced technology during the pandemic and we used Mote previously on tasks submitted digitally. Our intention was to attempt digital feedback on handwritten assessments.


We knew that we wanted to improve and streamline marking and feedback processes but knew that some learners would be more receptive than others. All existing learners from BCoT had been used to online delivery (some had used the Mote tool before as a method of feedback). The majority of learners who were in their first year from leaving school had not heard of, or used, Mote before.

Due to the success of using online tools in the pandemic and trying to steer away from a school approach, we decided upon this new approach for written task feedback.

GCSE learners:

Two different groups of learners for GCSE were chosen. Both groups consisted of learners who had achieved grade 3. One class was working at a higher level than the other. In total 20 GCSE learners were chosen to be provided with online feedback. Not all learners engaged in the feedback given. Following an initial and diagnostic assessment, all learners had to complete three additional progress tests and a set of mocks throughout the academic year. We chose to:

  • Provide a Mote audio recording for up to 3 minutes – the feedback followed the form of What went well (WWW) and Even Better If (EBI). It included how to answer certain questions, use different vocabulary and how to improve their responses.
  • This was for all learners.
  • This feedback was available as a transcript.
  • This was listened to by learners and targets set.
  • We followed the same process for all three progress tests.

Feedback from one of the GCSE learner A who gained a Grade 4 in the November exams:

I listened to my progress and targets from my verbal feedback. I was able to then share this feedback with both Emily and Jane during my extra English sessions… I think feedback from teachers will help me with getting the skills needed to find a part time job and improve my job at the radio station.

ESOL learners:
An Entry Level 2 class of 15 part-time ESOL learners were chosen. They completed a writing initial assessment in class. The teacher marked the spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG) errors on their writing but did not write the customary feedback on their work. Instead, they recorded the feedback for each learner and produced an individualised QR code which was inserted into a presentation (see Appendix 3a). The presentation was shown in the next class and the learners were able to come to the board and scan their code (each code was labelled) with their phones so they could listen to the feedback on their phones. The feedback consisted of what went well and how they could improve on their next piece of writing. The focus was on constructive feedback. The learners then completed another writing activity and the teacher analysed this to ascertain whether they had taken into account the feedback given previously.

Functional skills English:
We also used Mote for a small number of learners resitting their Functional Skills English writing exams to pinpoint areas for improvement to assist them in the resit. The Mote feedback was sent as an MP3 recording to their learner email.

Feedback from Functional Skills learner C:

As a learner at BCOT, I was very impressed when I used Mote, it was incredibly easy to use and the instructions were easy to follow. One of the things I like about Mote is that I can quickly clearly hear feedback. In my opinion, voice comments are more clearly understood because you can hear the teacher’s tone of voice and the nuances of what they are saying. I would 100% recommend this product to teacher’s and other learners.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The methodology of the research changed during the project. We were hoping for an ongoing journal for learners, but we were unable to find a platform that provided this. Instead, we used Mote for the three progress tests for English and in preparation for the ESOL exams. As Mote was developed, we used the tool for additional things such as voice-based questionnaires, the use of QR codes and voice instructions. We found that most learners engaged with the tools offered, but we realised that some just could not show the ability, or the enthusiasm, to work on feedback. We have a number of learners that have sat the exam more than twice. Their confidence has been reduced as a result of them being expected to resit the GCSE year on year. A minority just found the Mote process too difficult to understand, or were not able to understand the correct tool to listen to the feedback offered.

Throughout the process we gained feedback from learners to assess the impact on their learning. The activities chosen worked with the two types of learners identified, but we now need to identify how we can implement this across the entire cohort. We need to ensure that the teaching and support staff are given appropriate training and support to enable them to deliver and assess in the future.

We have had a number of successes with the Mote feedback. The learners have enjoyed scanning the QR codes and listening to the feedback. We have some case studies where learners have stated that the feedback has directly impacted their learning and future skills. We have also managed to use Mote to embed in Google Slides as verbal instructions and for all class feedback.

There have also been barriers. Not all learners have the access to a QR reader on their mobile device. We do also embed feedback by using ‘hypermotes’ but then the learners have to log on to a laptop and find the document. This can be lengthy and confusing for some. It can take 10 minutes to listen to the document where it would have been instant for written feedback, or teacher 1:1 verbal feedback. Additionally, many learners do not have access to headphones and it can be the case that they would rather listen to it when they return home and they may forget to play the feedback. If we play it in the lesson, they can then hear 20 versions of the teacher giving individualised feedback.

Moving forward, we will continue to use Mote but will use it alongside other forms of feedback such as peer and self-marking. It is still a ‘work in progress’ as we have yet to find the right approach to using this for paper-based tasks. It works effortlessly when learners create a typed response using Google Docs as we highlight the text and then record the relevant feedback.

Lastly, we still need to work with how to store and track the progress made as a result of the recordings provided. We can see who opens the recordings – but need to understand how and why it may improve their English skills. We also need to understand the next steps in supporting learner progress. We have attempted this during the year but have not created an accurate tracking system.

Organisational Development

We went into the project with an ambition to change and streamline our marking process for all GCSE and ESOL learners; however, the numbers were too great. By choosing smaller groups of learners across different abilities we were able to identify who benefited from the project. It was great to see the ESOL learners embrace the feedback given and we feel this is only the beginning for them. Working with the ESOL department and understanding how the learners developed their skills will be ongoing after this project concludes. We were able to work closely with the Mote team to evaluate the correct tools for our learners and suggest improvements for future releases of the app. Elsewhere in the organisation, colleagues are using Mote effectively for digitally produced assignments and we will have shared our experiences using the same tool, but on paper-based assessments.

Learning from this project

We have enjoyed the project and have realised that Mote is a very useful tool for feedback. As the project developed, we soon discovered that we could use the tool for many other purposes.

The main challenge we found was the quantity of individualised feedback we had to record and share with the learners. Every GCSE lesson is three hours long and during that time a task is completed by the learners. At first, we found that we could not record the feedback on a weekly basis for these 20 learners for each lesson. When the lesson had finished, we then had to record the feedback. It was more time efficient to continue with our usual methods of in class feedback such as peer marking, all class feedback and face to face feedback as the teacher checked learners’ work during class.

Instead, we chose to use the Mote feedback method on the three progress tests for GCSE. This was much more effective and straightforward as we had to provide clear feedback to enable them to improve their practice. Similarly, the same approach was used with the ESOL team as they delivered the feedback following the assessments that took place during the year. We were using this for the paper-based assessment and when learners received the marked paper they had the audio Mote feedback to listen to whilst looking through WWW/EBI.

We attempted to use a Google form for group feedback following one of the progress tests. Each question from the test had a Mote recording explaining what worked well overall as a class and what needed to be worked on. Learners were then asked to set a target for each question where they achieved less than 50%. Due to the length of the feedback the recordings lasted for about 15 minutes and many learners struggled to retain the information.
We loved using the QR codes and these became easier to use and embed for feedback following a number of meetings with the developers. In the ESOL classes, QR codes were displayed on the class whiteboard under each individual learner and they were able to scan and listen within the lesson.

We went on to use the QR codes for other tasks as well as providing feedback. Most recently, we developed Top Tips for English GCSE revision and these were added as QR codes and posted around the College and on the Google classroom.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    Our project gave learners different opportunities to engage with the feedback provided and understand how they could make changes to improve their writing. Strategies were put in place as a form of target setting. As a result of giving feedback for three progress assessments, learners were able to identify their target areas and undertake differentiated revision activities to enable them to succeed.

  • 9. Apply theoretical understanding of effective practice in teaching, learning and assessment drawing on research and other evidence.

    We are always trying to improve our process for teaching, assessment and feedback.
    As Kay (2021) states:

    “Less is more…if teachers want learners to take notice of feedback, it needs to be short, specific and clear.”

    “Keep it focused…on the task and let learners know specifically what they can do to develop their work.”

    We wanted to ensure that we were providing this using the audio Mote feedback. As part of the feedback process we gave specific actions to enable the learners to improve.

  • 18. Apply appropriate and fair methods of assessment and provide constructive and timely feedback to support progression and achievement.

    We have learned that all learners react to feedback dependent on their individual learning preferences. For those learners who have difficulty reading, it was a huge advantage for them to listen to audio recording. For the ESOL learners it was a fantastic tool where they were able to hear the audio to improve their English skills, transcribe into their own language to improve their vocabulary and then listen over and over to support their progression.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Project Resources and Reflections


Kay, J., (2021). Improving English and maths in further Education: A Practical guide. 1st ed. London: Open International Publishing LTD.