5 way to use assessment feedback
In the course of one year, I formally assess each of my senior ancient history classes 5 times. Formal assessment items (exams and assignments) are very useful tools for the student as well as the teacher. Here, I want to explore how I use examination items as a learning tool within in the classroom.
- preparing for exams
When the final assessment for a unit of work is a formal examination, much work happens through the term to prepare and develop the students' ability to write in a formal academic manner. We look at essay structure, synthesis, credentialing of material and linking arguments to thesis statements. There is considerable attention to detail that must be paid to this genre of writing. Each individual student needs to explore and develop their own manner of writing. We know that students draws upon different vocabulary ranges, and there are various abilities when it comes to 'wordsmithing'. As a teacher, this is the part I like to spend the most time on: allowing students to improve their own writing. We do this by reading various academic articles from relevant journals (see previous post: Getting started on the research task) ) and peer marking. But writing under examination conditions often produces very different results to classroom tasks. Students have an unseen question, with many previously unseen sources and have a set amount of time to develop a quality argument. Despite this, it is exams that can provide excellent feedback for students.
- applying the feedback from exams
One of two things happen when you return a piece of assessment: cheers or tears! Both will pass and when they do, you can start the feedback and reflection process. These are some of my strategies:
- students need to be in an open frame of mind to read their work and critically reflect on the feedback I write during the marking process. I use a series of symbols, acronyms and abbreviations to indicate where more details/analysis could have been added, where there are expression errors, where there are knowledge errors or where there have been omissions. During this early reflection stage, students need to consider why I have given that feedback - sometimes it is obvious, but other times they need to engage with the assessment criteria sheet to see what they have missed, or where they have erred. This detailed analysis of specific parts of the task is excellent. Students are working quietly in their own space, engaging with their own work and seeking clarification from me where necessary.
- Students need to address these errors by correcting their work. This harks back to when my primary school teacher made us write out our incorrect spelling words 10 times each. There is no point in identifying errors or omissions if nothing is then done to correct or improve the work. I encourage students to rewrite their work to develop their synthesis, expression or analysis. Handwriting is best - there is lots of evidence supports the link between cognition and handwriting!
- These correct sentences are then peer marked and/or submitted to me for review. They then form a bank of well-crafted comments that students can refer to when they get a 'brain block' the next time they are writing a formal response.
- Students always see their previous exam when preparing for the next exam. It is important that students learn what their weaknesses are under exam conditions. For some it is time-management, for others it is anxiety that makes it difficult to think. There are many strategies that students can employ once they figure out what they need. When they look at a series of exams over a couple of terms, they can often see patterns in their drafting, editing, expression or processing. Once students see these patterns in their own work, they can apply the right strategy.
- It can be very overwhelming for students to do this task - especially for those students who judge themselves harshly. I encourage them to focus on developing one aspect of each task at at time- it might be communication, analysis or just applying the correct historical information! In Queensland, senior history is a two year journey and ideally, students should be making incremental improvements each semester (or each task).
I encourage my students to set achievable goals, learn from their mistakes and aim to improve just one aspect of the task each time they sit a formal assessment. But I also teach that there are great lessons in failure (of the task and of achieving goals). When this happens, we all just have to get up, dust off and get on with it!
Let me know if you have other startegies to share.