We know good assessment and feedback when it happens, but how can we make it happen?
Recently my family was headed out to run some various errands in an area of town we weren’t very familiar with. We knew how to get places, but didn’t know the exact relationship between them. So, before we left, we all started proposing plans as to where to go first, and as to who would do what, etc. The problem was that we really didn’t know, and if we just picked a plan and it didn’t work, then we’d be in a bad place. We needed a plan that involved feedback so that we could reach our goal. Our plan ended up being just a starting spot, and a plan to adapt from there, i.e. a wait and see plan.
In teaching, we have our goals, and we have a plan for us and our students so that we hopefully can meet those goals. We can even include assessments along the way to see if we are on track. But how can we really get the type of feedback and assessment results that have the best impact on our plans to meet our goals? I’m proposing that what worked for our family errands, can work for us in the classroom: start, then wait and see.
Let’s work with a specific example. You’ve taught a section on integration by parts in Calculus and then you give the students a quiz to see how they well they’ve learned the material. You have the goals that they will know how to identify the different parts needed, they can apply the formula correctly, that they have some sense of when the method actually helps them solve the problem, and probably others. After scoring the quiz, you see a distribution of scores that shows some that ‘got it’ and others that didn’t. Suppose you have written a fair amount of comments on those papers that weren’t so successful and have even provided a solution key for all. The problem is that you probably don’t know much about what’s going on with those that didn’t do well (and maybe not as much as you think about those that did), and that most of the students have no way of applying the feedback to their situation.
For ‘wait and see’, we start our feedback earlier as part of our presentation, and we limit their scope. For example, during an early problem, we stop and have the students figure out the different parts in the problem, and then either share with others or offer them to the whole class. Incorrect answers would get corrected and an explanation. This would be repeated with other problems and other elements of the solution method. In an ideal final assessment, I would get to work with individual or small groups of students as they work out a problem and to be able to ask questions and redirect their work. For example, once they showed me that they had mastered some part, I could move them past the details to the next part. The whole idea of the assessment being to try to pinpoint the student’s mastery of the goals and to give precise feedback where it isn’t, and to do all this interactively and adaptively.