I think we all are always looking for ways to ease the assessment and feedback process in our classrooms, I know I am! And I get it, giving feedback and doing great assessment with 120 students, or even just 20 students, can seem like an unwieldy beast at times. So while I wrote about lessons I have learned while trying to limit grades, I thought I would also offer up the practical things that have made my day-to-day better. Behold, a few things to maybe make your feedback and assessment process easier.
Background: I now work in a district that is doing Standards Based Grades and moving away from letter grades. We also believe that formative work is practice work and can therefore not count toward a summative score, and finally, that students have the right to re-take work. At my middle school, we have a 2 week automatic re-take policy that we encourage students to use in case they need extra help with a concept.
They have a notebook that stays in the room. I have learned the hard way that when students leave with their notebooks, they sometimes do not come back with them. So this year, I instead created a readers notebook for them to keep in the classroom. Yes, it was a lot of paper, but it means that my students always know where to write their thoughts, it means that all writing about reading only happens in the classroom, and it also means that I have access to them at all time. This means that not only do we have a routine established for responding to reading, which frees up time, but also that student scan see their thoughts develop over time along with the feedback I give them. Each class has a bin on my shelf for easy access every day and they grab them when they come in before they start their independent reading time.
They have a manila folder with their names on it in real life or electronically. Each class is separated into 5 different groups and each group has a folder. All work that students do that is not in their readers notebook go in these folder. This year, the students will even file it themselves to save time. Why collect the work? Because my students write way more than I can assess, so this allows them a gathering place for all of their work. When a unit is nearing its end, I ask them to pick the one piece that they want me to assess. I also do this for anything we do electronically (but I respect the fact that some of my students want to hand write rather than type). The discussion that happens based on what they select for me to look at are richer because I know they had to think about it and not just hand me the last thing they wrote. This also signals to them that they are not working to get through things, but to learn, and that every piece of work they create has value eve if it does not get assessed
I have pre-printed labels with comments. Not for everything, but when I give feedback in their readers notebooks there are certain things that crop up again and again. That is what the pre-printed labels are for. These change throughout the year and I do not reuse the same ones from unit to unit. It is always catered to what we are working on what I am noticing with the students, and are explained before they are put on their work.
The students self-assess before I assess. At the end of unit, before anything is handed back by me, the students will then set goals and reflect on their work. This involves them scoring themselves as far as where they are with their proficiency in the chosen standard. The score is based on a standard they have deconstructed to put into student-friendly language, and also based on a rubric they have built with me or we have discussed. I want my students’ to have a chance to reflect before their confidence is skewed by my words.
Standards are assessed twice at least. We have 7 standards to cover in English this year and all of them will be assessed for a summative score at least twice in separate quarters. It is a chance for students to truly see that mastery may come at a different time for them than their peers and that that is ok. It also allows us to establish a baseline score and then see how they grow. When a standard is only assessed once, we assume that all students grow at the same rate, which we know is not true. So instead, make it a point to show students that knowledge is something we gain at all times and that they are the masters of their growth.
They have a chance to disagree. Once students have self-assessed, it is my turn. I will either handwrite their assessment or speak to them about it. But even then it is not final, it is a conversation, and students know that this is their chance to speak up. Too often we gloss over the assessment piece by handing things back at the end of class and forget that this is one of the largest opportunities we have for meaningful conversations about their learning journey. Don’t rush through it but take the time to discuss, reflect, and set new goals.
All work is kept in the classroom, pretty much. I need to know what my students know. Not what others know, not what they later figured out, but what they know right now. So any kind of summative work is done in the classroom, not at home, so that I can see how they work on a product with time management and the need for them to think deeper. This also fits into my policy of limited homework. And it forced me to evaluate what I am asking them to do, since I can see how much time something takes. ( I also do all of the work my students have to do, which has definitely been an eye-opening experience).
PS: For the how-to for eliminating or limiting grades, please consider reading my book Passionate Learners. There is a whole chapter dedicated to not just the why, but the actual how.