Formative assessment, feedback loops, and report cards… oh my…

I read a great meme on Twitter the other day and then lost track of it. The upshot was something like, “If you don’t like doing assessment, you’re missing the point.”

As someone who shudders at the idea of carting home a stack of notebooks to not mark at night while they sit in the corner and I ignore them for something (anything) more interesting, this idea struck a chord for me. I still don’t love “marking” but I’ve put a lot of thinking lately into how to improve student outcomes and I’ve come to think of it differently. It’s not marking… it’s feedback loops.

Formative assessment is one of those things teachers know we should be doing more of; it’s one the thing we do in the classroom that has the greatest impact on student outcomes. Feedback loops are essential to student improvement. Students need to be able to see the goal and they need to see where they are in relation to meeting that goal. But how do we go about doing it in a meaningful way in our classrooms?

I definitely don’t have it figured all the way out yet, but here are the ideas that I’m using this year:

Plickers: I have used this tool a couple of times this year. In math, I used it as an exit ticket type activity where I got immediate feedback about who had understood the concept and who needed to have another go. The beauty of this tool is that it’s anonymous for students as they answer in the classroom so they have no fear of making a mistake in front of their peers, but when I look at my teacher dashboard later I can easily see how each student answered each question.

In English, we used Plickers to review information from the previous chapter and I had students write questions for one another.

Google docs: Students write a draft as they always have in their notebooks. This first draft is shared with one or two other students who have developed the ability to give constructive feedback in the form of two stars and a wish (two things that are great about the writing and one thing that might be improved in the next draft). Students write a second draft of the work, making any major revisions they see fit. After having a second go at it, I read their work briefly and give a positive comment and highlight three to five things the student can change independently (add punctuation, look up spelling). After this draft, students write a draft on the computer using google docs, which they submit to me. I use the comment function to send the student two stars and a wish. Students must then use my comments and the computer’s tools to write a final draft that will be taken for marks.

Math lab: once a week, students have a problem-solving “math lab” in which they solve an open-ended problem with more than one solution. They are invited to share their solutions with a partner and to explain how they found the answer. We use an assessment rubric and I ask students to rate their work using the same rubric that I use to assess their work. I mark the rubrics using a colour code (red for first attempt, orange for second attempt, yellow for third, etc. – rainbow order. Students are getting used to “having another go” at math work the way they are with language arts work.

As I take this with me into report card writing in the coming weeks, I’m not entirely sure what it will look like, but I am certain that I have a better idea of who my students are and what they are capable of than I ever did as a teacher with a grade book FULL of numbers.

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