Monday, October 31, 2011

What's missing in a mark...

Imagine one of your students sees a mark at the top of an assignment you've returned to him/her. The student may gain a general idea of his/her performance. The student may react with a comment such as "I did ok. I guess it wasn't too hard.", "That was sooooo hard. I didn't have a clue what I was doing!" or  "It was easy!"

While the mark may be an overall indicator of the student's performance, the mark will not...
  • identify WHAT the student can improve upon.
  • indicate HOW the student can improve.
In order for a student to know what to improve on and how to improve his/her work, descriptive feedback is necessary. Descriptive feedback, either verbal or written, supports the learning process because it is formative in nature. It enables a student to apply his/her efforts into improving specific skills and knowledge before proceeding with subsequent learning.
  • increase the student's intrinsic motivation towards learning.
Unfortunately, marks are too often used to extrinsically motivate students to comply with the teacher's directions. Most students will complete satisfactory work but many of them appear to lack passion for their learning. Years of completing work has stolen the joy out of learning. A small number of students complete exceptional work, but even for some of these students the goal is to achieve the highest mark possible rather than to satisfy their curiosity and thirst for knowledge.

Our goal should be to foster curiosity and a love of learning that leads to deep knowledge and understanding. To support this, we should be helping students identify what and how they can improve their learning.

So before the next time you choose to assign a mark to student work, I urge you to ask yourself the question, "How will this mark support student learning?"

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