BLOG POST BY PTAC MEMBER MELISSA-ANN PERO
The first day of school, I asked my students what was their biggest source of anxiety about school. Their answer: grades. The stress of the numbers attached to their learning. Some students are worried about the numbers not being high enough. Other students are worried about the numbers being too low. The idea that numbers cause students distress disturbed me, and so I am making a conscious effort this year to focus on student learning - not numbers, but instead feedback and growth.
My classroom mantra for the last three years has been Try. Rinse. Repeat. The best way to learn is to make mistakes and adjust from them. So students need to be encouraged to try things and fail at them - sometimes repeatedly - in order to achieve great things. Over the last few years, I’ve allowed essay re-writes and test re-takes at every turn in order to allow students to see their errors and learn from them.
But this year I am adding a whole new component. Instead of assigning a grade right away, writing assignments are getting positive, constructive feedback first. Drafts are being looked at through the lens of revision - not for grades but for growth. We’re all working together - students and teacher - to talk to each other. We are using questions instead of corrections. We are asking “why” and “how” instead of assigning numerical amounts. Students are engaged in conversations about their intentions and are really grasping an understanding of audience and purpose without feeling tied to an assigned grade. It is amazing to be a part of it.
My classes have been running as writing workshops. I’ve been using Google Docs so students can make comments and ask questions on their writing and on others. We’ve been conferencing one-on-one. Students who used to look for numbers are now looking for better. And it is amazing.
Not sure how to begin? Talk with your students about using and giving feedback. Equate it to coaching. As their teacher, you are their coach - giving tips and pointers to up their game. Ask them for feedback about what you’re doing as their teacher - as their coach. Check out Laura Reynolds’s article on TeachThought entitled 20 Ways to Provide Effective Feedback. Reach out to your Professional Learning Network and ask around.
Deciding to use feedback-based assessments in my 11th and 12th grade English classroom has changed the way I look at learning. Helping my students understand how to give and take constructive criticism has changed the way they look at learning, too. The growth and maturity I’ve seen from my students has been nothing short of incredible. What happens if we bring feedback-based assessments to all grade levels? Imagine what it would look like if we stop asking students to reach for numbers and instead ask our students to reach for better.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee