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Grading for Growth
August 11, 2016 | Volume 11 | Issue 23
Table of Contents
Growing Skilled Peer Reviewers
Susan Golab, Melissa Graham Meeks, and Derek Miller
In "Seven Keys to Effective Feedback," Grant Wiggins boldly asserted, "research shows that less teaching plus more feedback is the key to achieving greater learning." His point was that less coverage and more student practice with concepts, informed by feedback from a variety of sources, leads to improvement.
Sounds easy, doesn't it? We found it wasn't. More independent practice or even more peer feedback worked for too few of our students. But by looking at the comments students gave each other, we realized that we were seeing students' level of understanding in real time and tapping into a massive amount of learning data. As part of the now completed Statewide Writing Research Project coordinated by Michigan State University's Writing, Information, and Digital Experience research center, we began to unpack Wiggins's claim a little bit.
Creating a Developmental Continuum for Peer Feedback
In Derek Miller's 11th grade English language arts class, students' comments became a formative data set, revealing gaps in their knowledge about giving useful peer feedback. By mining that data, we thought we might be able to identify a progression of learning for student reviewers. We started by asking some hard questions:
We answered those questions in "The Developmental Continuum of Peer Feedback." The continuum describes what reviewers can say about another student's writing as they get better at giving feedback. By leaning on Hattie and Timperley's (2007) three questions—Where am I going? How am I going? Where to next?—we described five levels for reviewers' skills. The Developmental Feedback Continuum below [click on image to expand] identifies mile markers of proficiency in how student reviewers approach other students' work. The continuum offers a list of ways reviewers can move their feedback skills to the next level on the continuum. These methods also serve as instructional guidance for the modeling done by teachers.
Using the Continuum for Assessment
The continuum takes into account that student growth is a recursive process of falling back and pushing forward. For example, when juggling new learning, students tend to simply name what they see rather than evaluate and offer reflective questions. As students become more skilled and intentional in their writing decisions, however, their level of reviewing also improves.
Likewise, harder writing tasks mean reviewers might slip backward a level while they practice the new skill. In other words, when using the continuum for assessment purposes, it's important to remember that level 5 is not synonymous with an A grade. A student at a level 3 might achieve an A, depending on the degree of challenge in the writing task and the student's growth as a peer reviewer. Teachers must consider how much practice students have had working at a certain level of complexity before assessing proficiency at a particular level of the continuum. So, to truly track student growth, teachers need to be able to see multiple peer review exchanges over time.
The continuum tool can track student growth across a course of study. It provides mile markers of proficiency and direct-instruction guideposts. Consistent use of the continuum accomplishes several goals:
For Miller, the continuum transformed his students' appreciation for their work in giving feedback, but change did not happen overnight. At first his students found using the developmental continuum annoying. Once they began to see what Miller was asking of them—that referencing things they learned about in class in their feedback to one another was a way to solidify their own understanding of concepts—they began to buy into their self-assessment of the comments they gave other students.
Feedback Is a Record of Authentic Learning
We took Wiggins's claim about less teaching and more practice seriously. In the process, we learned that more practice actually entails much more instructional design—that is, more teaching. The success of peer learning hinges on students' growth in giving feedback. For students to get better through peer learning, instructors have to both teach and assess effective feedback. With practice, students improve their ability to self-assess and self-regulate, which leads to transfer of knowledge and skills. But for most students, transfer doesn't happen without instructional design that prioritizes student growth.
Students need teachers to give them feedback about their feedback. It's critical for learning. Literally, the feedback a student gives to another student is a record of authentic learning; by assessing that record, instructors can plan for differentiating instruction. The developmental feedback continuum provides a map for instructors and students on how to improve.
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.
Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 10–16.
Susan Golab is a literacy consultant for Oakland Schools in Waterford Township, Mich. Melissa Graham Meeks is an English professor at Gordon State College in Barnesville, Ga. Derek Miller is an English language arts teacher at Royal Oak High School in Royal Oak, Mich.
ASCD Express, Vol. 11, No. 23. Copyright 2016 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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