This morning, I chatted with a colleague in the Education programme who helped me see some things regarding assessment a bit more clearly than I had before.
Clearly, grades are due. Timeliness is often a factor in fluid and creative thinking.
Students respond to assessment in many ways. For some, it is a motivator: they want the A. For some, it is a threshold: they’re fine with a B. For others, they don’t care: a C is fine, or even a D… in fact, the fact that the work is graded might be a demotivator. In this regard, assessment can stand in the way of learning.
I’ve often referenced Chickering and Gamson’s 7 Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, and #4 (“Gives prompt feedback”) is something I know matters a great deal… but, I hate doing the assessment. The grading gets in my way. And, I’m very aware that feedback and assessment are not the same thing at all, but they have been inexorably intertwined in my own mind and practice as an educator. I have not been able to extricate the two.
I left the conversation with some thoughts about how I might adjust my practice in coming terms.
Eliminate the tension of points.
I struggle with points. How many points should this assignment be? Even if I make it a rubric, it gets added up, but this is an arbitrary quantization of qualitative information… and then you average ordinal data. (The methodological nut in me can’t stand anything about the process; it’s the worst of all mixed-method studies, canonicalized in the practice of educators around the globe.)
In this regard, I’m starting to think there will be fewer scored assignments next term. A midterm, a final, and perhaps a project report or two. That isn’t to say that there will only be four assignments; instead, that there will only be four that carry points. Those are the assessment points in the term.
Make feedback rapid.
I have struggled with feedback for so long because it is intertwined with assessment. That is a mistake. The student needs feedback that is formative, rapidly, so they know what they are doing that is good, and what they are doing that can be improved. This summary by Geyde regarding formative assessment is nicely put together, and has good breadth.
Feedback is part of the learning journey.
Something that my colleague said, however, that really struck me, was that the language I use should be motivational and clearly articulate where the student is on their learning journey. So, things like “you’re coming along, but have quite a ways to go,” followed by three concrete suggestions to improve their work for the next time around is different from giving a grade of C-. Likewise, saying “I think that starting earlier, and consulting with me before submission, could yield something truly excellent” is different than saying “that’s a B+ or A-.”
Put another way, the feedback should communicate where the student is, but it shouldn’t become a point of stasis or deterrent… it should always provide motivation for the “next steps.”
Feedback should have next steps.
Another point he made was that each comment should have a clear set of next steps. A table, even, in the syllabus, could be useful. When I say “this isn’t there yet,” it should mean “you need to start earlier, read and re-read the assignment, and ask questions early, rather than late.” Similarly, if I say “this is not work that will lead you to success in this course,” it means “you need to make an appointment with me right now.”
Yes, I can say those things directly as well… but, some language like “indadequate,” “coming along,” and so on can essentially map to grades, but provide a clear motivational role as well as clearly define behavioral next-steps that lead to better learning.
These thoughts will be backed by some additional reading, discussion, and planning on my part. A quick search for “formative feedback language” has led to some interesting presentations and articles (from the HEA, from Taylor Francis (which I don’t know how I will retrieve…), or this thorough summary of the literature by Shute from the AERA Review of Educational Research), which I’ll investigate further. For now, though, I wanted to get some of these thoughts down so I could 1) remember them later, and 2) share them with colleagues for further discussion and reflection.