Involving students in their own learning is a core component of effective formative assessment practice. Empowering student collaboration can help them understand their learning targets, while moving the entire classroom forward. In my role at NWEA, I quite often come across teachers who have some unique stories to share on accomplishing successful student collaboration and formative assessment in general. On such story comes from a science teacher.
He really wanted to work on using comments more effectively and put more responsibility for learning back on the student, but he couldn’t figure out how he could comment on 120 upcoming lab reports, return them, and do it all over again. Are there enough hours in a day to do this? So, he thought and pondered and schemed and came up with this plan: the students could draft their rough draft of an experiment they had just finished. The teacher would give them time in the computer lab to finalize and format them, and then together, they would “comment score” them using a comment rubric upon which they had all decided upon.
He said that coming up with the rubric was really fun. He began by modifying an ELA rubric that had format, grammar, and content components, and each class came up with its own “Well Done” section and “Needs Improvement” section. The comments were all numbered for ease. Most importantly, they all agreed that allowing others to score their work was really hard to do. Letting someone evaluate their report was nerve wracking, and they promised to respect the feelings of those around them.
So, they rough-drafted and typed (the kids who didn’t rough draft their paper had to do so, in class, before typing), printed off reports, and got ready to score. On the Big Scoring Day, each student read and scored three other students’ work. To the teacher’s surprise, the students worked hard and thoughtfully during the process. They also signed the bottom of the paper. When the scored papers were handed back, TOTAL SILENCE reigned while each student read the comments. Very few went back to seats; most stopped in place, intently reading the rubric and comments. The teacher waited for pandemonium, but it never came. Most were satisfied that the comments were accurate. No one was given a grade, just the opportunity to fix anything that needed fixing.
The kids loved it. They got lots and lots of comments, good ideas from seeing other people’s work, and a better idea of how they stacked up compared to others, AND two days to redo it before the teacher scored it.
The teacher loved it too. It was the ONLY piece of work that he scored for two and a half weeks. It was worth a lot of points, but the kids rose to this high-stakes challenge. AND, he offered to provide them only feedback comments when they turned it in again, no score. Oooooh . . . GOOD idea, they said.
What is the bottom line here? They put more time and effort into their work. Those who didn’t do as well on the report because they fell behind or opted not to participate stuck out like sore thumbs. Some of those kids have vowed that they will be ready with the rough draft next time so they don’t waste time and miss on Scoring Day. The teacher’s students are now “Focused on Flawless.” He has replaced the “F” of failure with that of FLAWLESS. A student may turn in his or her corrected report as many times as he or she would like during the one week following the scoring session. The first “Flawless” awarded was to a special Ed student who did his report six times before declaring it to be Flawless. The teacher agreed that it was so, but for one thing. He forgot to spell his name correctly!
Was it time consuming? Oh, yes. Did he fall behind on the pacing guide? Yes. Is he going to “do this” again? Yes . . . this week on their graphs. Do they love it? Surprisingly, yes. Are they learning more? Yes. Grades and morale have improved.
Does the teacher love it? Yes, YES, though he can’t rid himself of the suspicion that he has done this all wrong. He really wanted to work more on it, modify the rubric and the environment some. It has been the best thing for his teaching since . . . well . . . since he started teaching eight years ago.
I love coming across stories from teachers like this. Applying some core formative assessment components to classroom instruction – in this case student collaboration and using learning targets – to improve student learning. We’ll share more as they become available.