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Teaching Opinion

One Canadian School’s Vision for Feedback-Based Assessment

By Starr Sackstein — October 22, 2017 4 min read
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Guest post by James Kardash

In February of 2016 I was moved to Mayfield S.S. as Principal. I spent that semester at the school observing dynamics, practices, and processes. My observations were that the teachers were doing most if not all the work. They were providing all the content and doing all of the evaluations, while the students were passive consumers and not really engaged in the learning process.

What was really irksome was the prevailing attitude by the students that they just wanted to know what they had to do to get a 90, not what were they going to learn.

During that summer I happened to read Start With Why by Simon Sinek, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, The Originals by Adam Grant and Hacking Assessment by Starr Sackstein. The concepts of these reads caused me to do some serious reflection about how I could influence greater participation by the students in the learning process.

Going gradeless was an idea that would begin to address a more active involvement by the students in the learning. I shared my thoughts with the staff and the school council but cautioned them that I would need to seek approval from the school board prior to it becoming a reality. Initial reactions by most was to wonder if I hadn’t taken a few too many hits to the head in a previous career.

A presentation to a couple of superintendents was met with a favorable response and they said they were going to share it with the senior administrator of the Board. The eventual approval by the Board then put the wheels in motion. A communication plan was enacted involving messaging to all stakeholders.

Again there was lots of resistance but with more and more dialogue, sharing of information on websites, and putting the focus on learning and not achievement, people started to consider the idea as being viable. Approval also meant that a PD plan to support the pilot teachers initially needed to be created and put into action. All of this work helped to create the conditions for our journey to begin.

As it is a pilot in only four courses this year, we are aware that we will encounter some turbulence and may need to adjust our flight path. The feedback that we receive will be invaluable as we begin to navigate our transition in earnest next year.

Desired plan for pilot teachers

Ideally, at the beginning of the course the teachers and the students would review the three or four overarching learning goals and the specific expectations for the course. Students would then rewrite each of these in terms that they understand and share them with their teachers to ensure everyone is on the same page and aware of the targets. This will provide for greater clarity and transparency. For any explicit lessons that the teacher would be providing during the semester, learning goals and success criteria would be co-constructed with the learners.

Students will have a digital portfolio that will contain all artifacts of learning in each course as well as any feedback that they have received. The portfolio platform that we landed on and are testing out is Google Sites. With all artifacts and feedback housed in one platform we reduce the number of platforms that the learners and parents need to navigate. It also allows for greater transparency for the parents as they can have their child/ward show them everything.

The feedback that comes from teachers will be timely and effective. Students will think about their learning and write reflections. Ideally teachers will provide feedback on the process and their peers would provide feedback on the finished product. The feedback on the process work by the teachers would allow the learners to modify and adjust their assignment so that the final product is representative of their best work. Their peers will provide feedback on the finished products and they will enhance their skills by growing with their responses. Should the students write a reflection on their finished work this would be the ideal time for the teacher to provide some additional feedback.

At the end of the semester the student will review their artifacts with the teacher highlighting their growth as a learner—how they reflected on the feedback provided and applied it. The students will identify their mastery of the specific expectations of the course and those areas that still require some growth. After this presentation the student will indicate what mark they feel reflects their level of growth during the learning process. The teacher will respond with their estimation and the two will land on a final mark.

For the report cards students will compose their own comments. They will indicate their learning, next steps, and an area of growth to that point in time. Their comments will be contained to 100 words or less.

This is the template that has been laid out for those teachers involved in the four pilot courses for this year. Obviously there will be variations to the template based on the personalities, beliefs and willingness to grow beyond comfort zones of the teachers. It will be the feedback and data that we gather from each of these classes that will help us learn so that we can provide the best possible experience for all of our 9th grade students next year. For me, I’m interested to see which group grows more this year, the teachers or the students, and what the impact will be on those observing from the outside.

What predictions do you have? Please share by leaving your feedback in the comment section below.

Jim Kardash is currently the Principal of Mayfield S.S. in Caledon, Ontario. He has been an educator for 31 years. Seventeen of those years have been spent as an administrator in five different schools within the Peel District School Board. Jim also played seven years of professional football with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.

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