Last week I wrote about effective feedback and the different ways students might get feedback during the learning process. This feedback for students doesn’t have to be comments on a paper, a rubric or test scores.
The feedback loop goes both ways. You as the teacher are also always looking for feedback from your students in order to know what the next lesson is or how to tweak things for maximum understanding or to determine the members of your next small group. You, too, don’t need to mark work in order to get feedback on how your students are doing. You probably want to collect two types of feedback.
One kind is very informal and might be called intentional noticing. These are the many observations that you make all day long about how your students are doing with the learning at hand. This kind of intentional noticing is not as easy to do as you may think. At the end of each day you will have been involved in a myriad of discussions and observations with students but may still be unclear as to what you have intentionally noticed. However, when you are planned and purposeful in your lesson design, you can also be planned and purposeful in your intentional observing. For example, you may be intentionally noticing whether students are using the information from the mini-lesson in their work. You may be intentionally noticing whether students are using the specific vocabulary of the lesson. You may be intentionally noticing whether students are taking risks in their problem solving. You may be intentionally noticing how they are applying previously learned strategies. You may intentionally noticing the types of errors they are making.
The same kinds of teaching conditions that you use to help students get feedback will also allow you to get feedback: small group instruction, little whiteboards or Kahoots, conferences, sitting with groups of students as they work. At the end of each of those activities, you are thinking, what do I know now about my students that I didn’t know before and how am I going to address those needs?
The other kind of intentional feedback that you get, you will want to record. You can’t possibly record everything you notice. However, you may wish to record some specific kinds of information during this learning phase that may add to your assessment record in determining a final grade. These are the intentional observations and conversations that you have with students that give you insight into their understanding of concepts. If, in these instances, the information you glean demonstrates an independent understanding of the concepts, you can use this in a summative way. These recorded observations and conversations can be used in both determining next steps and in evaluating students. The problem with using non-recorded observations and conversations as part of your grade determination is that you cannot prove anything in case a parent is curious about how a grade was determined.
All this talk about feedback is really talking about formative assessment. I don’t like the word “assessment” here because I think it misleads us into thinking about assignments, quizzes and rubrics. Instead you want to think about planned and purposeful teaching and the types of activities you do that help students learn and help you to know your students better. When your students change and grow and when you make decisions based on what you are learning then you are doing assessment for and as learning.