Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Using Feedback to Make Assessments More Meaningful

Image result for feedback

This semester, one of my goals has been rethinking feedback - how I give it, how I maximize the impact of feedback given, and how I can produce more meaningful feedback for my students. So often, we as teachers spend hours of our lives reading through student responses, adding comments on papers, and correcting grammar only to find our labors tossed into the recycling bin, or more accurately, discarded into the digital cloud since most of our students' papers are now submitted electronically. Feeling the disappointment of my comments not reaching my students one too many times, I began to reflect on why I provide feedback to my students. This form of communication with students is utilized because it shows that I care about my students as readers, writers, and thinkers. Providing a detailed reflection on their work in a time-efficient manner can foster my relationship with my students and allow me to identify their strengths as students and people. Furthermore, I craft comments with the intention of encouraging growth and engagement, but if students aren't reading my comments, then all of this effort is for naught.

How do I solve an issue that goes back well beyond my time as a teacher? How do I ensure that my students are receiving their feedback, and more importantly, how do I ensure that they are processing that feedback in a manner that will improve their academic abilities? After a quarter of reflection and attempts of personalizing my feedback, here are my conclusions:

1. The more immediate the feedback, the more effective it is. 

I grade believe in grading papers quickly. When I have an assignment to grade, such as a literary analysis after finishing a novel, I tend to forgo sleep. Instead, I stay up by the glow of my computer screen or better yet, I set an alarm and wake up especially early to complete a half class set of essays before school begins. This practice is slightly unreasonable, and my husband has since learned that we plan our lives around grading as much as possible, but I believe that this practice is critical. When I grade an assignment quickly, it shows my students that I value their work. Their achievement matters and the work is still fresh in their minds. The more immediate and direct the feedback is, the more likely they are to care. If two or three weeks pass, they will have long forgotten the assignment or no longer care to revisit the content that has since been replaced by a new text or a new unit. Immediacy also surprises students. They aren't expecting feedback yet, but when they receive it promptly, they are more likely to care and more likely to be interested in what is said.

To make this process a little more feasible for educators, tech tools such as Permanent Clipboard, Google Keep, or Auto Text Expander allows grading essays at a faster rate to be a more realistic goal. When a teacher can craft a comment bank, he or she can provide more detail, begin to recognize patterns in student work, and even insert links for students to gather more information. Other ways to provide more immediate feedback is creating automated feedback such as inserting comments on a Google Forms quiz, adding personalized comments in Google Classroom, or creating more student driven formative assessments in web tools such as Quizlet, Kahoot, and Socrative. No matter the type of feedback or assessment for which a teacher is providing commentary, the more immediate the feedback, the more invested they will be in what these comments say.

2. Feedback should be delivered in a variety of ways. 

Feedback does not always have to be extended written feedback by the teacher. Feedback can come in several forms - it can be illustrated, comments can be coded by the teacher and students, and it can even be audio. Effective feedback can be delivered via voice comments or screencasting, a method that I have discovered my students appreciate (or at least a form to which they pay attention). Diversifying how one provides feedback is also rejuvenating for the teacher.

Diversifying formative assessments can also provide great information to teachers and students. Formative assessment is a fast and effective manner with which to provide students with feedback as to where they stand individually and in comparison to their peers. Using Google Quizzes to illustrate their percentages and talk about their understanding is a great tool. Kahoot, Socrative, PollEverywhere, and other similar tools also provide feedback, encourage discussion, and also make learning a little more fun. When students have a variety of tools to show them what they know and remind them of what they still need to learn, it can create a dialogue between a teacher and students, motivate students, and drive instruction. Formative assessment does not need to count in the grade book, or it can. This type of assessment is flexible and provides such valuable feedback to teachers and students alike.

3. Formative assessment does play a significant role in the outcome of summative assignments. 

Scaffolding and chunking assignments can help students to create better final products. Whether it is writing a paper, comprehending a major concept, or crafting a presentation, providing students with feedback along the way through formative assessments can help students to redraft their work, make corrections, and increase understanding. As a means of striving to use a larger variety of formative assessments in this quarter, I decided to break down a writing assignment into more of a writers workshop, and the process yielded significant results.

For the paper assignment my sophomores recently submitted, I used daily face-to-face conferencing, screencasting, and traditional written feedback. I set clear and specific formative checks into the writing schedule. Throughout the process, students were more engaged, completed their work, and showed measurable growth from the previous paper assignment turned in early in the quarter. They knew what was expected of them and could articulate what areas in which they still needed help (i.e. quote integration). By providing a variety of types of feedback, students seemed to understand what I was expecting more and were more willing to talk about their writing with their peers. While providing this feedback took more of my time and felt tedious, I was encouraged by the results I observed in my students on a formative level and when I graded the summative draft. Chunking the paper into smaller formative assessments was tedious and time-consuming, but I found that when students were engaged in this process, I had better results. Finding ways to tie formative assessments into larger summative products can help students to grow and produce better summative products.

4. The more personal the feedback, the more likely students are to engage with it. 

During this quarter, I have attempted to find a way to encourage my students to interact with their feedback. If I'm spending the time to provide it, I want students to view feedback as meaningful. To encourage students to look at my critiques, I've started creating a highlight reel using Screencastify to point out repeated mistakes and give an overall summary of what I found with their writing. Creating videos only about 90 seconds to two minutes long, I have found that students are far more likely to open the documents that I have commented on and look at the comments after hearing my voice and watching me point out specific annotations on their papers. Yes, this does take some time, but it has encouraged students to reexamine their work. Screencasting works better on shorter writing assignments and projects than it does for longer essays, but it is another tool to make feedback personal.

Note: VideoNot.es and EdPuzzle can provide teachers with ways to annotate videos if students are submitting a video project. I have seen history and science teachers create powerful feedback using these tools!

5. When feedback is given, students should be held accountable for reading and interacting with their feedback. 

So often because of time I find myself skipping this step. Also, when I allow students to revise, few students take advantage of this opportunity unless it is required. One idea that has helped increase student engagement with formal comments is requiring that students comment back on my feedback. For longer assignments, this might be too involved. An alternative might be to have students comment on repeated mistake or a specific number of annotations. Another tool I use to encourage student reflection is using Google Forms to encourage targeted self-evaluation and reflection. Asking students to grade their own work, justify a specific a grade that they believe they deserve can be a meaningful process. Students are often honest about how diligently they have worked, talk about strengths and weaknesses, and will share areas in which they need more help. As with any assignment, this process can be time-consuming, but when students process their learning, it is time well-spent.

Providing feedback is such an important part of our roles as teachers. Finding ways to make it more engaging and efficient is a passion of mine. Not only does improving the quality and speed of the feedback process make our jobs a little easier, but it also makes our efforts more meaningful.
Tweets by @Steph_SMac