Providing constructive feedback to students is a critical part of a teacher’s job, but it’s not always easy. Students get caught up in the grades they receive and often don’t focus on the comments or suggestions that a teacher makes. And while we understand that grades provide the benchmarks parents, and ultimately students, need there are some techniques that can be used “along the way” that can help students receive the valuable feedback needed to move learning forward.
These formative assessment ideas and techniques don’t work for every teacher or class. Much like our formative assessment ideas that we’ve shared in our blog posts, teachers need to use those techniques that best work for them and their students.
1. Comment-Only Marking. As implied, in this technique, the teacher provides only comments—no grades—on student work, in order to get students to focus on how to improve, instead of their grade or rank in the class. For this idea to really pay off, the comments should be specific to the qualities of the work, designed to promote thinking, and to provide clear guidance on what to do next. Consistently writing good comments that make students think is not easy, so it is a good idea to practice this technique with other teachers for ideas and feedback. To increase the likelihood of student follow-through there should be established routines and time provided in class for students to use the feedback.
2. Plus, Minus, Equals. Here, the teacher marks student work with a plus, minus, or equals sign to indicate how their performance compares with previous assignments. If the latest assignment is of the same quality as the last, the teacher gives it an “=”; if the assignment is better than the last one, she gives it a “+”; and if the assignment is not as good as the last one, she gives it a “−”. This technique can be modified for younger students by using up and down arrows. There should be well-established routines around this kind of marking, so that students can use it formatively to think about and improve their progress.
These and other formative assessment ideas all help manifest the five strategies and one big idea that comprise and form the foundation of Keeping Learning on Track™ (KLT). KLT was developed by a team of researchers led by Dylan Wiliam and is rooted in research that shows the power of formative assessment based teacher professional development.
Tell us what you think… have you used any of the techniques above in your classroom or school? Drop a comment below and share your thoughts.