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.

Goal setting

This year I have been on mat leave with my second son and have had some time to concentrate on myself and my goals. I have been blogging regularly and have checked-in with my goals about once a week. Doing so has taught me some important things about goal-setting:

1. It’s not enough to set a goal at the beginning of a project and walk away, expecting the goal to have magically come to fruition. Goals have to be revisited frequently. I have set year-long and monthly goals and when I look back sometimes find myself thinking, “Did I actually say I was going to do that?” I think for students this means that goals should be set at the beginning of the year and after each term and that they should remain visible, rather than tucked away Ina binder as I have done in the past. Maybe we will try posting them on a corner of our desks?

2. Goals must be scaffolded. My goal to run a half marathon in under 2.5 hours is predicated on my ability to meet the monthly goals I have set for myself. It’s not magic- running 5k in January, 10k in February, and so on is the work necessary to get to my long- term goal. It gives me something to check off every month and I can SEE my progress. For students, I’m not sure what this means. “Complete all Grade 5 objectives” is too obscure, “get better at writing stories” is too vague. A good example of a Grade 5 goal might be: “write one short story and publish it on my blog” or “read a book every week”. These goals, however, do not necessarily demonstrate growth. Is it worth showing students curriculum documents so they know what it is they are supposed to learn?

3. Making goals public means being accountable for your progress. I am often asked how my training is going. I think it is reasonable for parents to sit down with their kids at supper and ask them how they are progressing at meeting their goals.

These are just my thoughts so far. I am not sure that I am not being too idealistic as I sit back with lots of time to think (haha- not really because I’m on mat leave), but the pace of life is different than it is in the classroom. We’ll see where this thinking leads in the fall.