Feedback is often secondary to the grade or level received because it has been ingrained in the world for so long that the final grade is what counts. Educational research generally says that feedback without a mark is the most powerful for affecting change.
How does this research impact your assessment practices? How do you use feedback to move student thinking forward?
Even as a new teacher entering into the field of education, I have met a number of teachers who are going gradeless in their classrooms. This aligns with the educational research and their own experiences which tell them that students respond best to written or verbal feedback, rather than a letter or percentage grade. Too often, students look at the final grade and take it as the ‘be all and end all’, skipping over the descriptive feedback provided about their current performance and ways to improve. This cycle also leads students to “only want a C” or to achieve the letter grade that meets their parent’s expectations. This, however, actually takes away from the learning process in that final grades are the smallest form of feedback for students; it labels their current ability without providing ways or suggestions for improving.
The Assessment and Evaluation of Student Achievement portion of the Ontario mathematics curriculum states: “As part of assessment, teachers provide students with descriptive feedback that guides their efforts towards improvement” (Ontario Mathematics Curriculum, 2005). Education involves learning, trying, receiving feedback, and trying again. Written and/or oral feedback provides students with a personalized description of how to improve. This is why more and more teachers are moving away from overall grades and focusing on detailed feedback. However, I also acknowledge that much of our education system past the elementary grades revolves around percentages and final outcomes, especially because that determines the future of a student’s education (i.e., next course, university acceptance, etc.). I believe that it is our duty as Primary/Junior teachers to provide students with the understanding that feedback is important and that there is still something to learn when receiving feedback (learning about our process, as well as during the process).