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Feedback for Impact
June 11, 2015 | Volume 10 | Issue 19
Table of Contents
Field Notes: The Day I Ditched Points
Charity C. Stephens
Five years ago, I waved my magic wand and eliminated points as a means of communicating student understanding throughout a unit of study. You may wonder, "If you don't count points, how do you account for student knowledge?" The answer is simple, really. I put what students know and can do into words.
More likely than not, you have experienced some form of evaluative feedback in your life outside of the classroom. Imagine if, at your next physical, your doctor said, "I see you are at 60 percent. I'll see you next time and hope you are better." This would leave us asking, "I'm 60 percent what? What does that mean? How do I get better?" Despite knowing this is not an acceptable practice outside the walls of education, many teachers still rely on percentages as the sole means to evaluate student progress.
Kids can learn without grades (Wormeli, 2010). When doctors assess patients, they make a diagnosis that may be summative in nature (your blood pressure or cholesterol numbers, for example), but it is accompanied by descriptive feedback that prescribes a treatment to help the patient improve their health. Educators can take note of this process and mirror it in order to help our students thrive as learners.
For educators, descriptive feedback is a four-part process:
Thinking like diagnostic physicians, it's clear that whether your grading scale is a standards-based 4-3-2-1 or a traditional A-B-C-D-F, grades and points only hold meaning when learning goals, objectives, and levels of understanding are made clear. When learning and assessments are not scaffolded, we cannot effectively assess, diagnosis, or prescribe learning plans for student success. The tallying of points quickly muddies the waters, obscuring both what students know and can do, and what they need to progress.
A Point-Less Prescription
Want to give your magic wand a wave and make meaningless points and grades disappear? Try this in an upcoming unit:
If the thought of letting go of points makes your heart beat wildly out of control, then implement the first two steps and try something like this for the last two steps:
What's the Point?
Of course I did not arrive where I am today with the simple wave of a magic wand. I have taught for 17 years and I am always evolving on my educational journey. We all deserve opportunities to grow from our own levels of readiness. The sad reality is that the tallying of points only creates point chasers. The prescription for curing point chasers is descriptive feedback. Without points to chase and only words to guide us, we begin to seek knowledge and truly embrace what it means to grow as learners.
Stenhouse Publishers. (2010, November 30). Assessment and grading in the differentiated classroom, with Rick Wormeli [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJxFXjfB_B4
Charity C. Stephens is a classroom teacher of 17 years. During her 7th year of teaching, she had one of the highest fail rates in her building and was placed on a professional development plan. She transformed her teaching by focusing on differentiation, student voice, and choice. Follow her ongoing work at www.differentiated4u.com or @differNtiated4u.
ASCD Express, Vol. 10, No. 19. Copyright 2015 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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