Deeper Feedback Strategies, Part 1

By Scott Sterling

Giving students feedback on their progress is a decisive part of helping them grow in their abilities. But for too long, the traditional feedback methods have been less than insightful and, sometimes, even punitive.

With a little thought and creativity, your student feedback strategies can be just as thought-provoking as your lessons. The new Learning Sciences Dylan Wiliam Center shares ten methods that helps students grow in their abilities and their confidence. Over the next two posts, let’s look at them and discuss the ways they can work in a classroom.

No grade…yet

Too often, when the students receive a grade for their work, that is the end of the learning process—whether they were successful or not. Yes, grades are still an essential piece of our learning apparatus, but they don’t have to be the end of it.

Instead, when work comes in, mark down a “formative” grade, but don’t let the student know what that grade is. Write down some detailed comments that the student can use to improve their product, then give them a chance to resubmit a revised draft. Their final grade can be an average of the formative and final grade, or some other equation of your choosing.

Only accept excellence

Having high standards for each and every student can make the difference in both their level of effort and their success. Students often meet the expectations of their teachers—good or bad.

Shouldn’t that be true of their work as well? This strategy is simple: you don’t accept their work until it’s worth an A. Of course, you guide them with feedback and comments along the way until their product reaches that level. Because having every student receive an actual A in the gradebook is probably not allowed at your school, their official grade on assignments is determined by how many times they have to resubmit their work.

Going the right way

If you are scaffolding your units correctly, assignments should build on each other. It should therefore be possible to see a lineage from the first assignment to the last. It should also be easy to compare them.

In this strategy, you rate student work in relation to the assignment that came previously, noting their progress with either a plus sign (better than the last), minus sign (worse), or an equal sign (the same). You can also combine this with the previous strategy, saying you will only accept works with a plus and require students to revise until they receive one.

An ongoing conversation

As mentioned before, grading is often the end of the progress conversation, when really it should be the beginning. That’s what this next strategy is about.

If you are using portfolios or another organizational strategy for work, leave a section at the beginning for an ongoing conversation. When a new assignment is submitted, leave your comments there. Students then take your feedback, revise their work if necessary, and respond to your commentary. Repeat until mastery.

Grade based on specific skills

In a gradebook, the listings for assignments are often just descriptions of the work itself (pages in the workbook, chapters covered, etc.). But standards that have been properly unpacked don’t call for students to master chapters; they need to master skills.

So, instead, in your grading you should track their progress in relation to specific skills. These should be limited to only a couple per assignment, so you can give targeted feedback for improvement rather than leaving vague notes about a random spraying of skills from a particular strand.

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