By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Thanks for keeping up with my series on Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning by Jan Chappuis. Last time, I started my discussion of strategy 3: Offer regular descriptive feedback during the learning. In the first part of this chapter, Chappuis describes the five characteristics of quality feedback. Today, we’ll look at the rest of the chapter which offers a few specific strategies for delivering feedback to students as well as a discussion of how to make peer assessment more effective.
Practical Ways to Provide Feedback
We learned last week that there are two primary forms of feedback that we can offer to students: success feedback, which lets students know what they are doing well, and next-step feedback, which helps students see what they need to do in order to progress in their mastery of the learning target. Most of the methods of offering feedback that Chappuis offers in this chapter focus on these two types of feedback.
One method, which she calls Stars and Stairs, basically involves using a visual icon to let students know what type of feedback they are receiving. The instructor, for example, could draw a star next to every piece of success feedback and a staircase next to every piece of next-step feedback. That way, students can know at-a-glance where they need to do what.
Another method (one that I thought more fitting to college-level students) is called “That’s Good! Now This”. It’s exactly what it sounds like: When structuring your feedback, you first tell the student what they did well, and then you tell them what to do “now”. As a follow-up to this method, Chappuis mentions that after the student revises the work, they should also include a brief write up of what they did to revise and what they want the instructor to give special attention.
I think “That’s Good! Now This” provides me with the perfect framework to offer feedback to my students. In my writing classes, I have students draft everything in Google Docs. This makes it easy for me to access and comment on their work from any device with an internet connection. Furthermore, students get the feedback immediately (even an email notification whenever I leave a comment), and Google Docs gives students the ability to reply to my comments. Based on the information in Chapter 3, I think my new process for giving feedback on rough drafts will go something like this:
- I leave one comment per paragraph or section. I will phrase this comment to offer one piece of success feedback and one piece of next step feedback.
- Before students can submit the final draft, they must revise each paragraph and reply to my comment to explain what they did in response to my feedback.
I think the act of students replying to a comment and putting their thought-process into words will force them to consider my feedback more carefully, and I look forward to seeing how this takes shape in my classroom.
After offering a few other quick methods of giving feedback, Chappuis provides a more in-depth process specifically meant for performance tasks that will be evaluated using a rubric. The book provides a handy form to guide this process, but in a nutshell it looks like this:
- Determine which rubric criteria will be the focus of the feedback.
- Students use the language of the rubric to write a self-assessment of their strengths and areas that need more work.
- Then, the instructor reviews the work and writes an assessment of the students strengths and areas for improvement, also using the language of the rubric.
- The students then write a plan of action for what they will do next with the draft.
I like this process a lot, and I could see myself using it at times instead of “That’s Good! Now This”. I could also see using this method for assessing final drafts. After I return the draft, if the student wishes to revise and resubmit their work (which I allow everyone to do), they would be required first to submit their plan of action to me.
One other feedback method from this chapter that bears mentioning is called Two-Color Highlighting. In this quick way to offer feedback, students score their own work by highlighting the appropriate descriptors on the rubric using a yellow highlighter, and then you do the same using a blue highlighter. That way, wherever the student possesses the same understanding of quality as the instructor is highlighted in green.
Peer Review That Works
I always tell my students “Everyone hates peer review!” That might be a hyperbole, but you probably won’t find a hyperbole closer to the truth out there.
Think about it. Peer review places students in a number of uncomfortable situations. First, they are made vulnerable to their classmates. Second, they are asked to pass judgement on their classmates. And third, they are expected to do this with no training at all. I’ve got a Master’s in Teaching and six years of experience in the classroom, and I still barely feel comfortable branding a student’s work with a grade.
I have always struggled with conducting peer review, and I know a lot of instructors who found it so ineffective that they just stopped trying altogether. I’ve been standing on that cliff plenty of times, but Chappuis just coaxed me off the ledge with some pretty sound advice. For starters she shares some research that details two requirements for an effective peer feedback session.
The first is that the students need to understand that they are assessing each others’ work, not each other. Notice my emphasis on the word “understand”. Understanding something is far different from being told it. The second requirement is that students must be provided with the tools they need to meet the learning target. Otherwise, they might equate poor performance with a lack of natural ability rather than a lack of appropriate action.
So what does this mean, practically speaking, for my classes?
For starters, it means that the more I can get students to understand the learning targets (by implementing strategies 1 and 2), the more likely they are to focus on the targets rather than the people when reviewing one another. Imagine a classroom, for example, in which students have heard me and each other repeat the phrase “Uses showing details” from the rubric so often that everyone can bring to mind a handful of examples just as readily as any baseball fan can spout off the best at-bats from last night’s game. In such a classroom, talking about writing is just a thing that people do, it’s not an awkward, gut-wrenching situation in which peers half-turn their desks toward each other and then find a way to avoid eye contact at all costs.
It also means that I need to rethink when I conduct my peer reviews. I have, for a few semesters now, been in a very problem-based learning mindset in which I give students minimal instruction before asking them to write a rough draft. This chapter hasn’t changed that mindset, but it has forced me to re-imagine how I structure my learning activities. My usual structure looked something like this:
Minimal Instruction > Rough Draft > Just-In-Time Instruction > Peer Feedback > Instructor Feedback > Final Draft
The problem here is that the first place I am giving students time to apply the fruits of my instruction is on a peer’s draft, before they have had time to internalize it at all. They don’t have the tools to meet the learning target yet, so they won’t be able to assess their peers because they can’t even assess themselves. With the lessons that I’ve learned from chapters 1 through 3, the new structure that is currently taking shape in my head looks more like this:
Minimal Instruction > Rough Draft > Just-In-Time Instruction > Self-Assessment > Revision > Peer Feedback > More Revision > Instructor Feedback > Final Draft
This new structure builds in time for students to apply my instruction to their own work, thus internalizing the rubric and coming to a better understanding of what quality performance looks like BEFORE they ever have to apply that understanding to a peer’s work.
But even if students can acknowledge that they are evaluating work, not people, and even if they have a strong grasp of the steps necessary to produce quality work, peer review is still going to be an awkward struggle for a lot of them. One strategy that Chappuis offers for getting over this hurdle is to conduct a practice peer review session using a sample draft that was not created by anyone in the class. This gives students a chance to use the language of the rubric to communicate with each other without the added anxiety of actually passing judgement. The instructor can model effective feedback, observe how students communicate with each other, and offer corrections before it really counts.
That’s it for Chapter 3. I hope I’ve got you as excited about grading your next stack of papers as I am! And once you can see the surface of your desk again, check back in for my next post about the fourth strategy of assessment for learning: Teach students to self-assess and set goals for next steps.