First off, if you’ve not read Working Inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning the Classroom, I recommend you do so. It was one of the articles we read at PCMI 2011 and probably the one I will re-read the most throughout this year (I re-read things a lot–it helps me think and my memory is a sieve).
From pg 13: “A numerical score or a grade does not tell students how to improve their work , so an opportunity to enhance their learning is lost.” I feel that if students are paying attention to what the 0-4 system I use means, the numerical score does give feedback, but it’s not very specific. Sort of like I’ve told them the answer is on that bookshelf over there, but I didn’t say what shelf to look on.
And then you read stuff like this:
Research experiments have established that, while student learning can be advanced by feedback through comments, the giving of numerical scores or grades has a negative effect, in that students ignore comments when marks are also given. (p.13)
What’s worse is that I know that is true. I don’t think I’d ever thought it consciously, but I know it. I’ve watched kids get their skill quizzes back, glance at the number and then toss it away. How many of us have spent too much time writing comments on tests that we know our students will never read? But how much of that is our own fault? Why should the kid bother reading comments if they can’t do anything to make it better? (yes, yes, I know there is an answer to that but I don’t think my students do)
One of my goals this year is to make feedback useful. I’m honestly not entirely sure what that is going to look like, but to start I’m changing the format of my skill quizzes and how my kids line up to retake them.
I know, earthshattering, right? The above would fill the top half of a regular 8.5×11 sheet. Those are the first two skills I started out Precalculus with last year as the vectors until let into trig nicely and checking to make sure they remember squaring negatives in the calculator blindly is problematic is a good thing.
The purpose of the middle column is to give real feedback; “think about…”, “did you consider…”, “what if…” I will not put a grade onto this page, but I will put one into my gradebook that will get entered into the online student/parent accessible gradebook after students have been handed back their skill quizzes. If a student gets a perfect, the comment will reflect that. If a student doesn’t get a perfect, then they need to retake the skill and the feedback will direct them towards what to do to get ready for that. I plan to have some page numbers written down to direct students to examples to read or practice problems to prep with. Perhaps even online options
The last column is to help me enforce my policy that students prepare for the retake. In order to retake the skill, they must show me their corrections. I’ve been very lax on this in past years but I think with the feedback column I can help students be more self-sufficient with how to prepare.
Self-sufficient. Isn’t that what we want all of our students to learn? I feel a bit like a parent telling a kid to look it up in the dictionary, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If the kids know they can figure it out and where to look, that’s half the battle in math (read: life) sometimes. I know I’ll be facing kids who completely believe they cannot do math without ridiculous amounts of help and I am hopeful that good feedback will help them learn skills to help themselves without clinging onto those they deem ‘experts’.
I also have thoughts about changing my grading system. As it stands, I take the highest score and it stays no matter what happens. Kid could get a 3, 1, 2, 1 and their score would stay a 3 and that’s bothersome to me. I’ve swept it under the rug a lot because it’s a quiz system for me and I give regular tests and we do projects, but if my grades are going to accurately reflect what a student knows and is able to do, then that is definitely not happening. The strongest contender for replacement is Kate Nowak’s system from back in the day, but that would involve switching to a 0-5 system. I still have about 3 weeks to think this over, though, so I’ll keep y’all posted.