Clearing the fog: Taking a closer look at Assessment and Feedback

How will your students receive, accept, and apply feedback?

When I think back to my years in high school, I remember essays, tests, pop quizzes, and the occasional assignment. Aside from

the projects and labs that we did in Physics and Chemistry, rarely was I asked to design my own project, reflect on how I was learning or being assessed, and never did I ever conference with a teacher about my learning. Last year, I worked through a Project-Based Learning unit where I gave constant feedback daily and students created questions, delved into subjects of their own choice, and made connections to the curriculum.  In the end, I handed them a rubric with a grade and some comments on it. How were they supposed to learn from a piece of paper?  It was during this unit, where I realized that I needed to re-evaluate how I give and more importantly, use feedback.

In the process of Design Thinking (See @lmcbeth’s post here), the empathizing piece is so important. How do I design a project that pushes 21st-century students to engage their interests and work to their own potential? Then, how do I create a system of feedback that is both constructive and immediate with an assessment process that allows for student reflection and learning? Ideally, learning FROM the rubrics, comments and feedback I provide on a continual basis.

My goal is to devise a feedback process that is more immediate, can be applied to any type of assessment, and is clearly visible along the way. Ideally, I’d like to redesign my classroom as well – with feedback and assessment in mind.

My challenge - perhaps this is two action plans in one. The design thinking process allowed me to break down my problem and see it more clearly. The immediate feedback through collaboration at Cohort 21 was exactly what I needed.

My challenge – perhaps this is two action plans in one. The design thinking process allowed me to break down my problem and see it more clearly. The immediate feedback through collaboration at Cohort 21 was exactly what I needed.

Most recently, I have reached out to both @ddoucet and my Director in Teaching and Learning (Dave Krocker) to discuss making rubrics and post-assessment feedback more effective. From these conversations, my co-teacher and I redesigned the rubric (A great post on how to build a more meaningful rubric on Edutopia), asked students to submit self-reflections based on where they sat – Below, At, or Above standard. The key here was asking students ‘Why?”. Some responses…

After this, we conferenced with the students regarding their rubric and their self-reflection – this process often resulted with an ‘Ah ha’ moment for some of the students. It was clear to both myself and them that there is a need for more instances of feedback throughout the process – this is something that I need to focus on and has been an area of growth for me for quite awhile now. Somehow, I also want to redesign my space both in real life and online to better my feedback and increase student learning. I’m certainly on my way, but much more growth lies ahead.

Throughout our last F2F, applying the Design model to this problem brought to light many new insights and ideas.  The numerous conversations fueled a new appreciation for what assessment is really supposed to look like. A big thank you to @ksolowey, @gnichols, @lmcbeth, & @ddoucet along with many others in the Cohort 21 group who gave me great feedback and ideas to move forward with.

At the end of the day, great assessments are only the starting point. What they do with their feedback is where true learning and growth really happens.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on feedback and assessment.  What are other techniques that you use to make sure feedback is actually used to enhance learning? How do you make it consistent and timely?



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21 Responses to Clearing the fog: Taking a closer look at Assessment and Feedback

  1. You always impress me with your thoughtful reflections and insights. Glad Saturday was fruitful for you. Awesome stuff!

  2. Tim,
    Thanks so much for the insight into your feedback process. I love the sled reflection rubric that you created for your students – do you mind if I borrow it? This type of reflection will certainly help my students build their self-awareness, which is part of my action plan this year.
    As for fast and efficient ways to give feedback, I’ve been using docAppender with a lot of success. Another powerful feedback tool I used last year is peer critiques. I’d love to have a Hangout with you sometime to hear more about your process and ideas. Maybe @ddoucet would like to join us?
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Les,

      @Ddoucet has been telling me about your docAppender guru’ness’ with feedback. I think a hangout would be a great idea. I’d love to see how you set it up on the back end and how you implement it. How do you use peer critiques – do you have a specific format for your class or a framework for the critique?


      • Hey,
        Let’s plan a Hangout for next week. Anyone else from the Cohort want to join to learn about using forms to automate your life? Drop me a line if you do!

        Tim, I’ll also share some stuff about Critiques with you….

        • For sure, I saw your email. Thanks for sharing the critiques. I am going to tweak them for Biology and see how I can apply them to my assessments – I’ll let you know how this goes. I’m up for a hangout next week for sure. I will chat with Derek and get him in on the chat.


  3. @timrollwagen

    Great to meet you on Saturday at the F2F! Thanks for the blog post; I think that your reflections on assessment and your action plan sound awesome, and they’re somewhat related to where I think I’ll be going with my own. Individualized, timely feedback will be key for developing a personalized learning system for my Comm Tech students.
    I would second the shout out to @lmcbeth and her use of DocAppender – although I’ve only just started using it, it has transformed my feedback cycle with my students. I would also encourage you to consider more non-graded assignments/tasks. I know it’s tough but the more you can get students away from thinking about “what’s my mark?” and toward thinking “how can I improve this/me?”, the better!

    I’ve also always used rubrics, but recently came across the concept of not filling in all four levels of the rubric. I forget where I read about it, but I love it and how it works. Rather than filling in all four levels, just fill in level 3 (meets expectations), so they understand what the expectations are. When you’re assessing, rather than circling the box that shows where they achieved, you can use the space, if they’re above or below expectations, to write feedback. It kind of forces you to be more specific with where they’re achieved beyond your expectations, or where they have work to do in order to meet them yet. I know that probably wasn’t very clear, but I’m happy to chat further if needed! 🙂


    • Great to meet you too Jen!

      I agree about the non-marked/graded assessments! @ksolowey has put me in contact with Ryan Adams at HSC who has moved to an entirely gradeless system in History. I am looking forward to hearing about his experience. I love the idea of the blank boxes for feedback – I think the expectations for Level 3 have to be very clear and the feedback that you write in the boxes have to be very specific. Thank you for your comments!


  4. Graham Vogt says:

    Great post Rollwagen and yes, count me in for an @lmcbeth, DocAppender hangout. I really dig the process of feedback and reflection that you’re describing, and I’m inspired by the amazing initiatives you’re taking in your practice.

    Hey, perhaps I can build on Jennifer’s concept of rubrics. Have you ever tried co-constructing criteria/rubrics with the class? It’s pretty powerful. It encourages a deep engagement with the very idea of learning for a particular endeavour (project, whatever…) and it is the students who work to construct the criteria/language of the assessment tool. In doing so, they’re also identifying the areas and levels of feedback they’d like to receive. It creates a clear and common language that they, in fact, own. Perhaps it sounds complicated and arduous, but it’s not really. Honestly, I only co-construct criteria now and it’s become an essential component of the feedback cycle. The guru on this is

    Also, have you added a layer of reflection after the culmination and, perhaps, the final round of feedback? Where students are directed back to the process in the continuous construction of answers to some of the larger questions (who am I as a learner?) towards ‘self actualization’. Would love to hear how that’s being explored by other teachers and would be happy to talk about what that currently looks like in my class.

    Peace out Rollwagen.

    • Thanks for the response Graham! Always a pleasure to see your name come up! Great insights as well. I am working, albeit slowly, on infusing more reflective work around my assessments – with the main goal being (and how you put it) student ‘self-actualization’ of learning.

      I just received a Sandra Herbst book from Joe McRae and he has had experience with redefining assessment in his class. I look forward to learning more. @gnichols has also eluded to the richness of these resources.

      I am also trying to figure out how I can implement co-construction of rubrics and checklists to allow my students to better understand their learning journey. Lots to play with – love trying new things and seeing where they take me! Also potentially looking at throwing grades out for a unit – lots of fun!

      Thanks G!

  5. @gvoght, I am reading “Leading the Way to Assessment for Learning” right now by Davies and Herbst. “Students can reach any target that they know about and that holds still for them” (Stiggins) is a great quotation from that book, and underscores the utility of success criteria – sometime in the form of a rubric, and sometimes not.

    I taught for years in a system of giving students ONLY descriptive feedback, and no grades. When students submitted an artifact of learning (like an essay or assignment) they did so with the rubric already filled out (no specific marks attached). I would then use that same rubric to deliver my feedback (as well as descriptive feedback in the form of comments or video). If there was a huge discrepancy between their assessment and mine, I used that as the basis of a discussion.

    Can you guess how many students asked me for their marks over the course of 5years? Less than 10 in total…

    It was really the process of holding that target still, and letting them get to know the target. Teachers can use exemplars, but a big part of the solution is providing that feedback in the moment through observation and conversation.

    Love this discussion thread!

    • That’s a great idea Garth. Having students hand in the rubric with their assignments/projects/assessment would be similar to setting up the reflection piece. It certainly forces them to delve into the rubric and fully understand where they stand whilst pushing them a bit more. In the sciences, I sometimes find the time needed for co-creation of a rubric challenging. This would fit in, with a redesign on approach and learning in the science classroom though. Thank you both for your comments on this – it’s leading to some new insights and ideas for moving forward with this action plan.

  6. Joe McRae says:

    Hey Tim,

    Long time lurker…first time commenter 😉

    Thanks for your thoughtful reflection about the use of feedback in your class. It has definitely left me with some ideas to help you move forward, coincidently Graham has commented on some of these more eloquently than I would be able too. If you’re interested I have a couple copies of one of Sandra Herbst’s Books on Assessment its a great short read with a lot of practical advice on assessment and learning.

    There is also much to aspire to here – I’m excited to push my students to reflect in a similar way more often. I think this is such a meaningful skill and one they need more practice to develop.

    If this hangout gets setup please look me up I’d love to hear about Doc Appender.

    Great discussion!

    • Thank you for your comments Joe. Glad to see you’ve been lurking around the Cohort 21 blogs!

      We should meet and chat about docAppender – I will keep you in the loop regarding the @lmcbeth and @ddoucet Google hangout on this. Also, I have heard about some of the strategies you have been using in your math class. We should chat more about this because my assessment/feedback could use some overhauling in that course as well. Please pass on the books – I’d love to check them out.


      • Joe McRae says:

        All sounds great. I’ll try and drop off a copy of the Herbst book this week. Let’s definitely chat about docappender and assessment. Next collaborative time?

        • erica chellew says:

          I want in! Loved reading your post, TR, and especially enjoyed reading the student examples. They need more assessment like this. Would love to be included on future LCS collaborations that seek to redefine assessment here. The marks fixation in class is threatening to send me overboard.

  7. Garth says:

    Tim, this is turning into a very rich discussion. Let me add some more thoughts to this:

    1) Don’t design assessments to meet all the needs of KICA. Design assessments with the overall expectations in mind.
    2) Don’t report on KICA, report on the students demonstration of learning/mastery of the overall expectations
    3) Don’t use only one assessment to gather this evidence of learning/mastery. Use student conferences/conversations/argument/conversations with peers, use group work/lab/in-the-moment observations, and a product of the students’ choosing
    4) Have students self-assess before and after the submission process

    Check out the Hangout that I just did: this may give you more inspiration.

    Can we start a book club with Berbst/Davies?

    • Funny, I finally got around to watching the Hangout – I skipped ahead to the Product, Observation, Conversation piece and laughed because @ddoucet and I had the conversation today regarding this concept – throwing out the unit test. I am totally okay with throwing out the test – the place I get the most resistance in the sciences is at the student level. I also academic coach students at Trent University and on Sunday I had a conversation with them regarding exams. The student explained to me that their Lab Teacher at Trent University wished they would stop doing exams because it was not an authentic way of assessing – she then followed with ‘BUT’ the university does not allow it. Now Trent University is pretty progressive but they still struggle to ‘throw away the test’. I am all for throwing away the test but for the students sake (especially in the maths and sciences) I still value the skills learned and needed for their success in university.

      Simply put, I’m willing to throw the unit test out because I think they could learn better with more intentional assessments and feedback. However, a varied approach at the senior level may still provide them with the critical thinking approach and the skills needed for traditional requirements at the post-secondary level.

      In the end, I am still seeking to try a gradeless unit in the New Year and hope that the P.O.C. approach is how I can make this happen with plenty of student self-reflection and breaking down the overall expectations. Lots of conversation to be had!

      Thank you again for your very insightful comments. Book club started…at least at LCS. Go Berbst!

  8. Dave Krocker says:

    I feel the discussion that your post inspired is so powerful Tim. Truly, assessment is a massive undertaking and is an exciting journey in our profession. There have been many intelligent and thoughtful comments so I will be simple: for me, the role of assessment is to allow the learner to show us what they know, rather than catching them at what they don’t know.

  9. Derek Doucet says:

    What an incredible reaction! Welcome Joe McRae out of the lurking shadows and into the conversation – it’s much more rich with you in it! I love our conversations about assessment because I like to hear about life on the Math/Science side because it’s just great to know!

    Not sure if the DocAppender Hangout with @lmcbeth has happened but something I would like to participate in the New Year!

    You’re inspiring and what you’re asking your students to do is so powerful. I love how you jump in and change things at a moment’s notice if it will benefit your students. I am really looking forward to our PLC here at the school exploring assessment and how we can really push the enveloppe and get at rich and deep learning with our students.

  10. Struan Robertson says:

    I have also been a lurker, but felt the need to comment on the thinking from you and your Co-Hort colleagues regarding assessment. To say that your thinking and the commentary that has been generated is impressive from a PD lens, would be an understatement. I wish we could bring our whole school in on the conversation because I think this would really strike a chord.
    In my opinion, there is nothing more important than assessing learning and communicating learning. At my old school (elementary level) we tried this and went with progress related comments only – a total shift away from “grades or percentages”. It took time on both the teachers part and in building parents’ understanding, but in the end, allowed us to focus on learning.
    Thanks for your continued thinking and reflection.

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