I’ve written about some of the great training I’ve had on Assessment for Learning (AfL) also known as formative assessment. I’ve gotten some great resources but frankly there is way too much. It’s quite overwhelming to keep up with my everyday work of guiding students along the learning experiences that I’m preparing for them AND make sure I’m addressing all the different strategies and techniques of formal AfL. I end up doing more informal than formal assessing on the spot, what is referred to as Assessment as Learning. Ugh, I know, way too many acronyms and knit picky definitions of what we do.
I mean, regard the graphic naming five key strategies. Then imagine different ways of addressing each of those five strategies. It can become mind boggling. Then add to that that whether you teach elementary or secondary you either have 24 to 30, or more, students multiplied by five or more subjects, or, in my case, I teach two Science courses to 134 students (83 in one course and 51 in the other).
I do a lot of my assessing and giving of feedback as I wander the room watching students work. The easy ones are the on task ones because they typically ask questions when they need help or ask if they are doing it right. The ones that don’t ask questions but do their work are a little more difficult because you have to watch over their shoulder to see if they’re getting it or not. Then I can give them feedback. A great chunk of my time is spent on those off task. If they’re off task because they’re stuck then I need to help them get them started. Sometimes they can ask for help sometimes I have to guess until they can get started. Then there are those who are off task because they are not interested in the work. If they can do it then I just need to motivate them. If they can’t do it then I try to get them started and motivate them. Am I missing any other type of worker/learner?
If I find a few kids not getting something I stop the whole class and show them or teach them. This process of assessing and giving feedback to get students on the right track (on each one’s individual right track) and then giving the class instructions as needed is what I call mass production feedback. I find that I can do that more easily than giving each student written feedback on each piece of work. At 134 pieces of work each day I would have to be very fast, and I’m not. If I pick and choose assignments to give written feedback on then I could manage it but it would still take enough time that the students would be past it therefore making the feedback not timely and not as useful. That’s the problem with most of traditional grading, which is one reason why I stopped doing it. I can get to more students wandering and giving mostly verbal feedback. During a lab I observe and only help when needed. I try not to interfere too much with their learning process instead letting them make mistakes and figure things out on their own when possible.
Then there’s the other part of giving feedback and helping students become independent learners, having them peer and self assess. That’s why I show and model students on how to comment on each other’s blogs as well as requiring that they respond to three to five other students’ responses on the class social network. I want them discussing with each other and learning from each other. Besides, I tell my students that if they wait for me to give each of them feedback they would be waiting a long time but because there are more of them than there are of me, they can get quicker feedback more often from each other.
It’s a big job helping 134 individuals learn Science so they can understand how things on our planet work. I appreciate all the resources I have but I remind myself that I can’t use them all. What I do try to do is to use as many as I can each year so that I can use strategies and techniques that will reach as many kids as I can. Some things work better for some than others, which is why we can’t use just one strategy or one set of techniques. So maybe my mass production feedback isn’t the best but it’s what I can do. If I make sure to get to all of my students then at least I’m there for all of them and that’s what I’m trying to focus on besides preparing as many learning experiences as I can. I’m busy and work hard so I feel good about what I’m doing.