Posted On March 3, 2019
I ran into a student the other day in the hallway, and he looked like he
was trying to walk down the hall while carrying the weight of the world on his
shoulders. Typically, this student has a pep in his step and is always quick to
flash a smile. This day he looked different. His gaze was turned down, his
shoulders slumped, his stride slower, and he didn’t meet me with a smile and a
hello as usual. I asked him how things were going, and he didn’t say a word, he
just passed me the paper. I looked at it and asked what was upsetting him. He
directed me to look at the mark on the top right corner of the page; 14/28.
Initially I did not see the number there in black ink; instead my eyes darted
around the page looking at his work and the feedback his teacher had left for
him. The mistakes he made in his work were obvious; a missed negative, a
calculation error, a transposed number, a question not attempted; they all
contributed to the mark.
It was the mark he focused on, and it got me thinking about the marks we put on our students’ work. This year we have spent time discussing assessment, and have talked about grading and reporting. The conversations we’ve had have been deep and insightful and have helped me develop a better understanding of assessment of and for learning. I’d invite you to ponder the following questions as you provide feedback on your students’ next summative assessment piece:
1. What will be the initial
reaction? A mark causes a response. A student will be elated, deflated, or may
have gotten what they predicted they would. Regardless a number will create a
reaction. When you think about the reaction from your student, how will you
prepare for that? In the end, we want to help our students succeed, and if we
can help build their self-confidence, or avoid the erosion of it, we are making
strides in the right direction. How will they react?
2. What are they expected to do
with the mark? A mark should not mean the end of the learning. What should the
student be expected to do once they have been given their piece of work back?
Is there a normal routine that occurs in your room? Is it a game of ‘find and
share’ with friends? Is it a game of ‘flip and hide’ the evidence? Regardless,
there should be something the students are invited to do with this
3. How is the mark part of a
larger picture? We speak a lot about triangulation of data, and it’s the other
evidence you have been collecting that may elicit the reaction discussed above
in #1. How is this summative piece part of a larger collection of data? Is this
the first piece of a larger puzzle? How do we let the students in on the plan?
4. What does the mark cause you
to think? Sometimes a mark causes a reaction before the student even sees it. I
recall times marking an assessment piece only to be caught off guard by the
performance. When things do not go as anticipated, you should begin asking
questions. During several staff learning meetings, we’ve discussed a variety of
things that can impact an assessment, from how we create the assessment, to how
the students had prepared, to how the students felt when the snapshot took
place. Just remember sometimes when things do not go as planned you need to
hold a magnifying glass in one hand and a mirror in the other.
5. What does the mark cause the
student to think? What the student thinks goes deeper than the initial
reaction, and it speaks to question #2. If the students are invited to do
something with their feedback, how does this process look and sound? Do we give
enough time to this stage of the feedback cycle, or is the piece returned and
the students are left to digest it on their own?
6. How do the comments help
explain the numbers? I was fascinated at how fixated the student was on his
14/28. He seemed oblivious to the written feedback on the paper. It can be
frustrating when students simply stuff their assessment pieces in their desk or
backpack with little to no acknowledgement of the comments the teacher has
spent hours writing for them. Once again, this can be addressed by #2 above.
What are the students expected to do? What are the established routines? One
thing I needed to work on as a teacher was my penmanship. Often my comments
looked more like a doctor’s prescription rather than something they could read
and reflect on.
7. What are the plans for next
steps? We’ve discussed this as well, and we’ve talked about how assessment
should inform students and teachers about the critical next steps. I think
about when I used to teach fractions in my elementary math class and would
intentionally follow it with a unit on probability. By doing this, I was able
to reinforce the work we had just done in the previous unit and had an
opportunity to provide enrichment for those students who had mastered fractions
while at the same time giving reinforcement for those students who struggled
with fractions earlier. When you put that 1, 2, 3, 4 or that percentage on an
assessment, what are you already planning?
The mark is a powerful thing
as it evokes a response and has an influence on the student’s state of mind
going forward. What are we doing to help our students move their learning
forward using the information it brings?
Here is what is on the horizon this week:
- Grade 5 – 12 teacher staff meeting
- Spirit week begins (PJ and/or slipper day)
- Spirit week continues with colour day
- Spirit week continues with Superhero Day
- Bruce away
- Hockey tournament
- Spirit week continues with hoodie day
- Spirit week concludes with 80s/90s day (oh my!)
As always, create a great week!
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