Monday, May 5, 2014

Grades Gotta Go! (Part 6: "A Better Way - Feedback That Feeds Forward")

It is fitting that this post is about feedback. A couple weeks ago, my wife read my posts about grades and gave me some feedback. She said, "These posts are always so depressing." Well, that happened to be timely feedback because it is time to turn the corner to the hope that a grading overhaul can bring. The solution is wrapped up in one word: FEEDBACK!

My wife, I have to be honest, was right. The first posts in this series are depressing. It is sad to see what we are guilty of doing to children in the name of giving them an education. My hope in presenting the impact of the problems is that people will see that this "disease" is very real, very harmful, and in very real need of a remedy. Without coming to that conclusion, little effort will be expended to create a new reality.

Now, it is time to focus on the actions necessary to create that new reality. This process begins with coming to a consensus around the word "accountability" by answering one question: What do we need to hold students accountable for?

The number one answer should be learning, as demonstrated by mastery. If we agree on that answer, then we need to agree that traditional grading methods are some of the worst means of measuring accountability (for all the reasons mentioned in my previous posts). A new, simpler method is to plainly show what a student knows compared to the standard of what the student is expected to know.

With that established as the objective worth measuring, then we can turn attention to giving feedback that is specific, timely and actionable. Good feedback will tell students and parents where gaps are present, how big those gaps are, and most importantly, how to close the gaps.
So, let's focus now on how to use valuable feedback systems to truly hold students accountable for the right things.

Here are links to useful resources on this topic:

If I had to prioritize the steps to take in creating an effective feedback process, I would probably put emphasis on ensuring that feedback is actionable (#3) and timely (#5). The most powerful feedback also "feeds forward" to improved performance. It gives the student an idea of where to go next in the learning process. The timing of the feedback is also important. The sooner a student can receive and respond to feedback, the better.

Hopefully, there will be much more to come about ways to inject better feedback loops into our student accountability systems in our schools.


  1. As a former science teacher, data collected from feedback is a tricky thing because of the human element and emotional component. First, take the top and bottom 5% of your scores and pitch that data. Look at the people you are soliciting feedback from and decide if you value what they have to say. Do I value the feedback from a 10 year old? Honestly, not most of them. Their brains are not developed; they have an immature view of themselves and the world. That's why they need parents and teachers that see the whole picture. Am I against their feedback? Nope. But I don't need a formal survey in my class to quantify it; I get it everyday as a teacher and by being in my classroom.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, the feedback that I am talking about mostly in the post is FROM the teacher TO the student, not the other way around. Although that feedback can be important, I am referring mainly to those specific and timely pieces of information or questions that lead to further learning.

    I see our science teachers doing this all the time in response to what they hear students hypothesize, observe, and conclude during their labs and classes.