If you’ve been reading the Radical for any length of time, you know that I’ve been wrestling with the role that feedback plays in my classroom.
What you may not know, however, is that most of that work was inspired by a single quote from this article written by assessment experts Rick Stiggins and Jan Chappuis. They write:
Thus, the essential school improvement question from an assessment point of view is this: Are we skilled enough to use classroom assessment to either (1) keep all learners from losing hope to begin with, or (2) rebuild that hope once it has been destroyed?
Stiggins and Chappuis are right, aren’t they? In traditional classrooms, our feedback strategies — think providing a single grade for every handout, project and test that comes across our desks — leaves struggling students feeling hopeless simply because they rarely see evidence of their own successes. That breaks my heart.
The solution is a simple one: Any grade that you give in your classroom should be paired with structured opportunities for students to spot the progress that they are making regardless of the final marks that they earn on an assignment.
What can that look like in action?
In my classroom, it looks like this Unit Analysis Form, which students fill out after a unit test has been passed back:
Unit Analysis Forms include three essential components: (1). A list of all of the outcomes that students are expected to master during the course of a cycle of instruction, (2). A list of the specific tasks completed during the course of a cycle of instruction– quiz questions, test questions, classroom assignments – that students can use as evidence of mastery, and (3). An opportunity for students to reflect on the progress that they have made over the course of a cycle of instruction.
Unit Analysis Forms also ask learners to decide whether their struggles are a result of conceptual errors or simple mistakes. “Typically, we make mistakes through lack of attention,” write Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, “But once they are pointed out to us, we immediately recognize them and usually know the corrective action to take…Errors, on the other hand, occur because of lack of knowledge. Even when alerted, the learner isn’t quite sure what to do to fix the problem.”
Unit Analysis Forms are powerful tools for helping students seek and effectively deal with feedback primarily because they make it possible to spot differing levels of mastery across all of the outcomes covered within a unit. That means students can see exactly which outcomes they have mastered and which outcomes they continue to wrestle with.
For students who struggle, this kind of targeted feedback can be a source of encouragement.
Instead of feeling like failures after earning a low score, they are likely to spot concepts and skills that they were successful at mastering. More importantly, Unit Analysis Forms can help struggling learners and their classroom teachers to be more efficient, spending time revisiting genuine errors instead of wasting time correcting simple mistakes (Fisher & Frey, 2012).
So let me ask you an uncomfortable question: How often do your students get to examine outcome specific feedback after completing major assignments? It really is the first step for rebuilding hope in struggling learners.
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