Feedback for Learning

Anxiety. Stress. Grades. Students have a million activities, classes, events, and social issues they manage everyday. They are busy and overwhelmed. Add a math class in there and some students buckle. Test day in my classroom has been known to induce tears, sudden illness, and roving eyes. While researching best practices on feedback to students, I decided to try assessments where the only “grade” the students received was not a grade at all but purely feedback.

On Fridays we take quizzes. Every Friday (unless we have an assessment), I give a formative quiz. Usually these quizzes consisted of homework problems and served to check students’ understanding throughout the chapters. What I’ve noticed in my seven years of teaching is that the first thing my students check for is the grade. “What did I get?”, “How many points is this out of?”, “Is this an A? Did I pass?” Rarely did I ever hear the words, “Wow, look at how much I learned! Oh, I need to keep working on factoring, solving equations, etc.” The purpose of the formative assessment did not match the end result of the formative assessment. I wanted to change my students’ response to assessments while incorporating teacher-led feedback into the process to encourage ownership of learning.

This student had the opportunity to reflect on my questions and resubmit his work. There must be an action for feedback to be effective.

An interaction with a particular student was my deciding factor in trying out feedback quizzes. Lily, a student who would usually get 95%+ scores on her individual tests was stressing over a formative quiz. I chose to do two quizzes in one week because I wanted to give students as much feedback as possible for the current work on the sine curve. It was Friday, and as usual we had a quiz. She asked why we had to have a quiz again in the same week, and I told her that I wanted everyone to get as much feedback as possible because this was a challenging chapter. I asked, “Don’t you want feedback so that you know where you are in the content?”  Her response was, “Yes! I want as much feedback as I can get; I just don’t want a grade attached to it.” And so started my journey with feedback-based quizzes.

I knew I didn’t have time to create a lot of work for myself so this had to be a relatively quick process. The quizzes look just like their graded quizzes. I give the feedback quiz a few days before I give them a graded quiz. On the feedback quiz, I look through their responses and make notes on their papers. Sometimes I just write encouraging words.  I’ll write reminders like, “An intersection solution has an x – and a y – value”, “Could there be another answer?” and so on. I do not correct their work, but I provide opportunities in class for students to make corrections and follow through on the feedback they have been given. It is essential that students have time to process the “next steps” on the feedback otherwise it becomes a reaction like a grade. My team has borrowed the term “nexting” (thanks Shelly Grothaus) to accompany our feedback to our students. My next steps are to allow time for student to student feedback. A segue is allowing students to be the “first graders” of their quizzes. The idea is to teach them how to give effective feedback to one another. Once I can do that, this opens the door for my students to take ownership of their learning.

On the days of feedback quizzes, I truly see students trying their best to learn and to reflect on their knowledge. Anxiety. Stress. Grades. Replace those words with inquiry, collaboration, and learning.

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