In the push for better student achievement, standardized test scores have taken on increased significance. Yet these summative assessments, much like the traditional letter grades that schools have assigned for decades, represent judgments that are delivered long after student performance. Young people receiving only these types of assessments lack the specific, actionable and timely teacher observations—otherwise known as feedback—that will help them improve their response to learning tasks.
So how can educators better equip students to do their best? Formative assessments can help, but only if they are designed to deliver authentic feedback, rather than “mini-judgments” that are essentially summative assessments on a more frequent schedule. To determine whether they are using best practices for student feedback, educators can ask themselves the following:
Is my feedback aligned to desired outcomes or goals of the learning task (and is the student aware of those outcomes/goals)? Whenever possible, use rubrics to clearly communicate expectations for students. Have kids use rubrics to assess and reflect upon their own (and classmates’) assignments prior to handing them in. Then your feedback can describe how student work stacked up against the rubric.
Instead of: Handing the graded paper back to the student with the comment, “This essay made a weak argument.”
Try: During a writer’s conference, saying, “The goal of a persuasive essay is providing clear support for your opinion. Your introductory paragraph did not include enough detail to clearly state your opinion, and the later paragraphs present little evidence to support that earlier opinion.”
Am I encouraging student participation and ownership of the feedback process? Let the student process the feedback. Then, when he or she is ready, move into collaborative strategizing about next steps.
Instead of: “I want to see you put in more effort next time.”
Try: “Do you agree that those three things (previously explained) are important to work on for next time? Great! Do you have any thoughts on how you can reach these goals?”
Do I give students opportunities to apply feedback to improve performance? Rather than penalizing multiple attempts at mastery, give kids plenty of chances to try again. Use pre- and post-assessments to reveal student growth and boost motivation.
Instead of: Giving a “C” on an assignment
Try: Giving rubric-based comments about needed improvements, then (1) allowing the student to re-do the work to earn a better (replacement) grade and (2) encouraging the student to keep track of his or her gains between first and second attempts at assignments
When I praise students, am I incorporating feedback? Praise students’ effort, as well as their application of feedback to improve their work. Avoid overly generic positive statements and praising fixed student attributes, since these types of compliments can send the wrong message and can actually harm student motivation.
Instead of: “Great job on your story!” or “You’re such a great reader!”
Try: “In this second draft, I see that you worked hard to take my feedback into account, and that you included more details to help me better understand what the characters were thinking and feeling.”