Feedback Makes the Grade
In many schools and districts percentages and their associated letter grades are still the norm, and daily feedback for learning still deemed an impossible consideration—or not considered at all. We should have traveled far away from the days when student achievement reporting was a pen-written interim report, followed by an end of term report card three to four times a year. But in many schools and districts we’re not. A conservative estimate marking the beginning of teacher imputed digital grading possibilities would be about twenty years ago. Most likely date back to the original Apple Classic towers and floppy grade disks.
Originally, for the most part, class rosters and grades, associated with students, was more like a calculator for test and quiz scores. Later, computing and software advancements made for more complex and complicated student grading possibilities, but achievement was still percentages and letter grades for tests, quizzes, and assignments. Teachers found it easier, than red record books held together with paper clips, but learned very little beyond student pass/fail. Students discovered very little as well, beyond helping to preparing parents for the inevitable final assessments—good or bad—six to eight times a year.
While programs that calculate grades in that fashion may seem an easy way for educators to put a number and letter on student achievement, that’s all it does. While some educators like that, there can be very little, daily, meaningful student data collected in that way. Worst of all, percentages for final work by students misses everything else that can be far more valuable in learning, and educating students—each day. When done right, knowing more about how and why students learn increases what they learn—and achievement earned that way is far better than arbitrary grading—out of daily lesson context.
In this social media world, if teachers aren’t taking advantage of the immediate feedback possibilities students are familiar with outside the classroom, they need to adjust for it—and include it in the classroom, where students spend so much time. Social media in a classroom might better be called learning media, and, today; it can be done with everything from digital handhelds to laptops, and even desktop computers by using software, apps, and cloud-based solutions. It can, also, be done with a mixture of older computing devices and newer devices, such as tablets, or Chromebooks—and with an entire class, or small groups—depending upon the number of devices. It is easier to get, and give, individual student feedback, today, as with percentage to grade solutions, but the former actually is a real part of learning, and the latter just management attached to learning.
Educators have been doing more than manage for a very long time. Furthermore, using technology cannot be considered new, or something other teachers do anymore. If a teacher can easily get more information about each student during each lesson, and can prescribe, and re-teach on the fly based on group and individual needs—it needs to be done. To do less shouldn’t be an option, as a matter of fact, it should be unthinkable, today. It doesn’t take much to discover if this is the missing part of learning in a classroom, school, or district.
More students than a few should be observed actively participating, adding to the class discussion, and conversation. If the majority are not involved—or engaged throughout a class—the amount of teacher/student feedback is minimal, or non-existent. Additionally, parents, who will need to know achievement specifics for their children, will get no more than lovely, superficial stories at conference time, and most likely question the basis for those arbitrary percentages and letter grades. How can you tell them more at parent conference time, if you don’t know more than a story, or that homework was late or incomplete? Feedback for learning is an essential, which can help make the grade in every classroom, and for every student and teacher. Administrators and parents will benefit from the knowing, too.
Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for a way to get beyond arbitrary grades and percentage scoring, ClassFlow may help to actively engages more students, and allow teachers to get the right type of feedback each lesson in a seamless way. Check out the ClassFlow solution.
About the Author
Ken Royal is a former educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience. He has written at many of the major education publications, including District Administration, TechLearning, and Scholastic Administrator. Presently, Ken is a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.