I attended an in-service after school the other day on the subject of Assessment. The focus was improving feedback strategies to help students learn. At the end of the session, I left feeling I was taking away something I could put into practice the very next day (this is always the sign of a good workshop). Below is a synopsis of what I absorbed and how I am going to apply this new knowledge into my daily interactions with my students.
Descriptive or Evaluative Feedback
An idea so simple, but one that I never gave much attention to: What kind of feedback are you giving your students on any given day, or on any given assignment? The presenter recommended that we aim for a balance of descriptive and evaluative feedback. The ETS National Assessment Training Institute in Portland, Oregon shares that:
Descriptive feedback should reflect student strengths and weaknesses with respect to the specific learning target(s) they are trying to hit in a given assignment. Feedback is most effective when it identifies what students are doing right, as well as what they need to work on next.
I feel as a computer teacher that I provide a ton of daily feedback, but it is mostly instructional guiding (“Remember to click here first before you click there.” “Here are the 5 steps of the activity for today.” etc.). I will focus more attention to acknowledging what students are doing well and also on providing specific feedback on areas they need to focus on.
Evaluative feedback will come as some sort of grade or marking. This can include percentages, points earned out of total possible points, checks, pluses and minuses, happy faces, letter grades, stars, verbal descriptions such as “emerging” or “secure,” etc. Evaluative feedback alone will not truly help students, in the sense that if a project earns a B+, there is no true motivation to either improve or learn what could have been done to earn a higher grade. It’s just over. B+. Move on.
Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning
So here’s the meat of what I took away from the in-service. Using, practicing, and improving on these strategies in my day-to-day teaching will help my students gain understanding of not only where they are at, but also, what they need to do to get to the next level. I didn’t expand on all of them purposefully. Just as I tell attendees to my workshops, “pick one or two key ideas and make them your own.” So too, will I practice here.
- Provide a Clear and Understandable Vision of the Learning Target
Have conversations with your students using some of these questions: What are the objectives? Why are we doing this? What are we learning? What constitutes quality? Provide students with scoring guides or rubrics (generated by the students if/when appropriate), so they understand. Just by simply changing up questioning techniques, teachers can help students become more focused and driven.
- Use Examples and Models of Strong and Weak Work
I use strong examples regularly, but I truly never thought of showing weak ones, and I am not sure I totally agree with this practice. One does not teach someone to swim by flailing and sinking, so I tend to focus on the positive. That said, I have shown weak writing examples to my third graders and is has been an effective strategy. My students create a lot of videos to show understanding of a particular subject and I frequently use solid examples from YouTube, Brainpop, Creative Commons, TeacherTube, etc. I also find it powerful to show previous student projects so that learners can see actual examples of products made by people their own age. If we are constantly showing them professional-quality examples, students, especially those who are struggling, will feel overwhelmed.
- Offer Regular Descriptive Feedback
Celebrate something the student did well and then focus on the next step. Never point out everything a student did wrong all at once. Narrow the critiques down to the most important for that given lesson. Monitor the student to determine how much feedback he or she is able to take in during one sitting. Model the kind of thinking you want students to be able to do on their own. The goal here is to enable students to be life-long learners.
- Teach Students to Self-Assess and Set Goals
-Identify their own strengths and areas for improvement.
-Write in a response log at the end of class, recording key points they have learned and questions they still have (blogging is great for this).
-Using established criteria, select a work sample for their portfolio that proves a certain level of proficiency, explaining why the piece qualifies.
-Offer descriptive feedback to classmates.
-Use your feedback, feedback from other students, or their own self-assessment to identify what they need to work on and set goals for future learning
- Design Lessons to Focus on One Aspect of Quality at a Time
- Teach Students Focused Revision
- Engage Students in Self-Reflection, and Let Them Keep Track of and Share Their Learning
When I was a classroom teacher, I always had my students doing portfolios – a year-long collection of work samples that show growth and improvement in various curricular areas. As a computer teacher, I have classes create digital portfolios. Regardless of the format, the most important aspect of portfolios is that of self-reflection.
As with most things in life, I tend to lean to the side of minimalism. I follow the less is more philosophy and I don’t feel that extreme over-evaluative assessment is healthy. As educators we are constantly assessing our students, regardless of whether it’s a written exam, a project-based assignment, or simply a tap on the shoulder followed by, “Nice work.” It doesn’t take much to re-think/adjust your assessment practices to become more balanced, and therefore more useful, more productive and more relevant to your learners.