Blog Series: Giving Better Feedback

I few weeks ago, I wrote about why I wanted to try giving students written feedback instead of number grades. I am now a few weeks into that experiment and I wanted to share one of the strategies that has made the switch possible.

Since I stopped giving students number grades, I have been using Google FormsAutocrat and gClass Folders to give students detailed written feedback about their work. While I’m a willing ed-techie, I’m still definitely a novice, so here’s a quick synopsis of how I got started…

I suppose the whole journey began a while ago when I was suffering major hand cramps from marking science labs: my body just couldn’t handle the repetitive strain of constantly writing out reminders for students to label the axes of their graphs and write a conclusion that refers back to their hypothesis. So, I created a word document template that I could use to give students credit for what they did well, while also reminding them about what they needed to improve in subsequent reports. For more details, check out the full post.

This strategy was really helpful for formative work, but when it came to summative assessments, I wanted to be able to give students more detailed feedback that better reflected the spectrum of achievement. For example, rather than indicating whether they did or didn’t label the axes of their graph, I want to be able to comment on the extent to which they generated an appropriate graph and interpreted it accurately. This information was already contained in the rubrics that I use, but even when I highlighted the descriptors that fit each student’s work, students often didn’t read the comments.

My next trick was to create a Google Form version of the rubric. Rather than marking a paper copy of the rubric, I filled out the Google Form version of the rubric. The result was a spreadsheet in which I had a specific set of descriptors about how each student had performed in relation to the assignment criteria. I then used the AutoCrat script to create a one-page individualized letter for each student with prompts for reflecting on their work. For more detail, check out this post.

Once I worked out the kinks, the system worked quickly and efficiently. In fact, generating the forms was much faster than actually printing them. Of course, both time and paper are valuable resources, so I started to look for alternatives to printing all the feedback forms. That’s when a colleague told be about gClass Folders, which I used to create a Google Drive folder for each of my students. It integrates with AutoCrat so that the merged documents can be automatically filed in the appropriate student’s folder. The details are in this post.

My experiment in numberless assessment has been great motivation to add some technical skills to my repertoire, but all that learning comes second to what I’m learning about how to help students make purposeful changes in their work and learning. I’m already noticing that students are paying closer attention to the rubrics that go with their work and are better able to comment on the extent to which their work met the requirements for each assignment. Stay tuned for further reflection as I continue working towards giving better feedback.

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