I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about assessment and descriptive feedback. I’m currently on a Learning Cycle here at CHCI related to the idea of descriptive feedback and it has pushed my thinking on how I help my students. We all know that good feedback is timely and specific, but I think we are under the impression that “good” feedback are the comments we write on a finished product. In my experience, I actually find that to be too late and the skeptic in me says that students don’t really read our comments, but rather only focus on the rubric…

In many cases I think the most effective feedback happens during the process rather than on the finished product. I have also found that students are much more likely to incorporate feedback into their work if it’s given as an oral conversation as opposed to written comments. I’m not saying that written feedback doesn’t have a place in the classroom as I believe it does, however, I’ve seen the most improvement from my students after conversations because they were active participants rather than consumers. It also provides the students with the opportunity to bounce ideas off me to further their thinking. For me, it is helpful when it comes to marking because I have been involved in the process and am well aware of their strengths and weaker areas. It makes my marking more efficient, but it also puts the emphasis on the learning and process rather than the end product.

The progress from this style of feedback is evident in my 3UU class. I am experimenting with “Profile” sheets that each student and I collaborate on regularly. My students have a copy of this sheet in their respective Google Drives and as I’ve made observations, had conversations, conferences, or graded work, I write my feedback on the document. My students then respond back with their thoughts and another layer of feedback happens asynchronously. I’ve been experimenting with this for the last few weeks, and the results have been awesome! The quality of student work has increased and many students have commented that they appreciate how their grades are co-constructed and collaborated upon as opposed to just receiving a mark of unidentified origin. The really interesting aspect though, is that this form is primarily about feedback not marks and yet many students feel more comfortable with it than the numbers. The focus is now on learning and improving intrinsically and not from the extrinsic motivator of grades.

All that being said, one other idea that I firmly believe in is trust. I spend a lot of time circulating and interacting with the students, but I also give them a lot of space. I want them to know that I’m a part of their journey, however, they need to feel comfortable enough to make decisions and not be afraid to encounter “bumps” along the way. I also want them to take risks and not always ask permission before they act. They know that they can reevaluate, refocus, and or change direction if it doesn’t turn out the way they had hoped because learning doesn’t often happen in a linear fashion.

It’s a delicate balance, but ultimately, the most important aspect of my job.

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