In my teaching I try to stick to an assessment/evaluation mantra:
Heavy on feedback, light on marks.
There are a number of reasons for this.
First, even the best evaluation is a little flawed. In the elementary grades we’re really lucky to have an evaluation process that is based on grades and not numbers. This kind of evaluation offers up a range, instead of an exact numeric grade, and it’s connected to the most recent and consistent results possible. In that range we, teachers, get to say “some days you’re like this, other days you’re like that, but overall, you’re kinda in this zone”.
Second, feedback (the good kind) pushes learning forward. It’s invitation to grow. “Try to add more of this.” “What if you did a little less of that?” “Consider this alternative approach.”
Third, feedback humanizes learning. Evaluation, while an efficient manner of reporting to others, kind of dehumanizes and judges learning. Someone saying “let’s make this better” is a whole lot different than someone saying “you’re 72% right.”
So what does this kind of feedback look like in class?
My grade fives have been learning to write biographies. Their learning cycle has looked like this:
1. Students read 2 biographies, and identified some elements that they thought might be important.
Students wrote a biography based on a timeline of Viola Desmond.
We added to our list of elements that might be important.
Based on those elements, we interviewed a teacher at our school, Mme Bahsous.
Students wrote a free write biography based on the answers to their interview questions.
They combined free writes to write a more formal biography of Mme Bahsous.
They gave each other feedback. They also discussed which feedback was the most helpful and the least helpful.
And that’s where we’re at now. Next they will:
1. Fix their second drafts (based on the feedback that they received), and rewrite and pass on our work to our audience (Mme Bahsous).
2. Finally, each student will go through a version of this cycle one last time, alone, to show her/his learning.
If each of these steps was evaluated, then I doubt the process would work. Feedback, on the other hand, has pushed student learning forward. Each piece of writing has been better. Students have grown as writers.
Marks shouldn’t start to appear until the lion’s share of the growth has happened. Otherwise, we shut that learning down.