How Feedback vs. Grades Helps Students Grow

Jane Repp, Head of the Middle School
I have been amazed over the past year at the change in my students’ attitude towards learning as a result of a simple shift from using the language of “feedback” instead of “grade”. They are consistently striving to learn and grow instead of seeing the grade as an endpoint to their learning. They don’t see “feedback” as an endpoint, but as an opportunity to improve. Grades feel like a permanent and final assessment of their learning, whereas “feedback” is just information to use to further their learning.
This all began last spring when I experimented with “exam wrapping” as a vehicle for our middle school students to reflect on their development as students while studying for and performing on final exams in most of their courses. Teachers worked together to develop questions for reflection after their students had taken their exams in June, and in the process the teachers became more transparent with the students about the study skills they were teaching them and how students might best use them to study in a way that was effective for them. After the exam, students had the opportunity to reflect on how successful their strategies had been and how they might use this information during the next school year. The last days of school then felt more process oriented and reflective, aligning more closely with our core values and goals for our students.
One of my goals for this current school year was to continue this work. The most effective feedback vehicle I have used thus far is a rubric with the unit goals along with column headings of Beginning, Developing, Proficient and Expert. I evaluate each student’s ability to demonstrate the unit goals and also comment on where improvements need to be made. Even when giving a formal assessment, such as a test, the students receive feedback in this way. At times the rubric is accompanied by a grade and others it is not. Regardless, the students have maintained this shift in perspective! I was especially pleased by the feedback I received from my students in a survey I gave them in early January. They appreciated the new system as it felt to them that they were being given room to improve and grow and that I did not see them as ever being “done”. I love that I am learning from feedback, too!
 
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Located in West Hartford, CT just steps from Blue Back Square, Kingswood Oxford is a private school inspiring co-ed day students in grades 6-12 with a college preparatory curriculum. Empowered students become clear confident communicators, resourceful problem-solvers, and ethical leaders. KO: where unlimited potential meets endless opportunities.
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