Black, et al. suggest in their 2004 Phi Delta Kappan article, Working Inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning in the Classroom that "feedback should cause thinking to take place." In addition, feedback needs to be clearly communicated. It's not enough to jot a question mark in the margins by something the student has written...or a smiley face beside something done well. Research by Robert Marzano and others supports that feedback need not be rich in quantity, but quality. In particular, a teacher should aim to do the following:
- Feedback from classroom assessments should give students a clear picture of their progress on learning goals.
- Comments should identify what has been done well and what still needs improvement as well as provide guidance on how to make that improvement. Phrase the guidance in the form of questions about the work.
- Opportunities for students to respond to comments should be planned as part of the overall learning process.
One thing which isn't in the research, but is an idea I like, is to make remarks on sticky notes and attach them to student work. The point here is to show respect for the students' efforts by not scribbling all over their items. I know that there will be times that this can't be avoided. Sometimes you need to circle or mark a specific word or phrase in order to call attention to it.
I did this with my students this week. They all had one assignment---just a simple formative assessment that was handed in---that I looked at and commented upon. For every student, I wrote one positive thing that I saw in their work and provided the example. Instead of "Good job!," which I might have written in the past, I wrote things like "This is good work because you provide examples to illustrate your answers (e.g. #7: bold red and blue subheadings)." Then, for any student who struggled with the assignment, I made a suggestion for improvement. Formative assessments do not count in the students' final grades. When I returned the papers and we talked about the comments, we also talked about the idea of how to use the feedback in order to earn a score of 3 or 4 (at or above standard) on the upcoming summative assessment. In other words, there are no secrets as to what kinds of answers I am looking for and what each student can do to create those.
Will I do this for every piece of student work? It's not likely. I may spot check certain items, rotate my focus on students throughout a unit, and provide oral feedback as much as possible. Why bother at all? Educational research is showing that good feedback is more effective at raising student achievement than grades. This makes sense to me. A simple score on a piece of paper, along with X's marking missed items, does not do much to communicate to the student. If we want to support students in their efforts to improve, then we have to explain to them how to do that. They aren't mind-readers any more than we are. I am also hopeful that engaging in this kind of dialogue will make students value their assignments more---and that fewer things will be returned and immediately be used to practice making shots into the wastebasket.
As with my other changes I'm implementing with my grading this year, I'll try to post some updates now and then about how this is working in the classroom and what I'm learning along the way. If you have any feedback to share, I'm always grateful. :)