distance learning

#DistanceLearning Recommendations for Grading, Assessment, and Feedback

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Watch or listen to this post as a video podcast: https://youtu.be/R1NWDy3Aahw


Distance learning has been tough on students and teachers alike, and the end isn’t yet anywhere in sight. Now that we know that school closures will be longer than a few weeks, it’s a good idea to be thinking about best practices for at least the end of the school year. Here are some distance learning recommendations on learning expectations, assessment, feedback, and grading to consider when making decisions in learning teams. They are presented below in order of importance.

1) Learning Expectations

Begin by reevaluating priority standards/learning targets as a learning team, considering the current context of student learning. 

There is no obligation to stick to the unit maps that we’ve created and used in years past. Our situation has greatly changed, and so our teaching––curriculum included––needs to adapt to adequately meet the needs of our students in the present situation.

Here are some questions to consider while reevaluating priority standards/learning targets (answers should be yes to each question):

  • Have students already learned at least a part of the standard this year?
  • Are students mostly able to learn the standard on their own?
  • Is the standard especially meaningful for their learning in the course this year?
  • Is the standard especially meaningful for their learning next year?

Importantly, teachers should use rubrics to communicate and clarify learning expectations. Past rubrics may need to be modified or updated to meet the current learning context.

2) Assessment

Teachers still need to collect evidence of student learning of reprioritized standards/learning targets. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Formative before summative! Focus on formative assessment to determine students’ current level of learning.
  • Formative assessment can be anything you use to collect evidence of student learning.
    • Ex: individual assignments, quizzes, reflections, etc.
  • Summative assessment may be used if a teacher feels the learning progression has come to an end and students are mostly at a proficient level.
  • Summative assessments should focus on assessing skills, not knowledge. Teachers should assume students have many knowledge-level resources available (but these resources shouldn’t be necessary to take the assessment). 
  • Students should be allowed multiple opportunities to retake assessments, especially considering the context of the current learning experience.

3) Feedback

Feedback is an essential part of the learning process, and students need this more than ever to continue learning. The only reason it’s presented here after assessment (in terms of importance) is because teachers must assess before they’re able to give student feedback. Here are a few guiding ideas:

  • Spend a majority of your time providing students with feedback on their learning progress. Align feedback to priority standards/learning targets, and be as timely as possible. 
  • Use formative assessment to gather evidence of student learning for feedback. Provide feedback early and often.
  • If a student wants to retake a summative assessment, treat the first take of the summative assessment as a formative assessment, providing feedback to help the student learn from his mistakes.

4) Grading

While grading isn’t essential for learning and we could do without it for the rest of the school year, it may still be appropriate in some distance learning cases. More than anything, when creating grades, ensure the grade represents student learning of your prioritized standards/learning targets. Here are several guiding ideas once this purpose is established:

  • Don’t grade practice, whether this is called classwork, homework, etc., as this is too much of an equity issue when there is such a great disparity in students’ learning resources. Also, work completion doesn’t necessarily indicate learning, so the grade accuracy can be questioned when practice is included in grades.
    • So why should kids do it if it’s not graded? Because they see the relevance and importance of the practice. We need to aim for intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic motivation.
  • If you do create grades, make them from summative assessments that assess only repeat standards. This way, grades simply represent a more updated look at student learning of those prioritized standards/targets. 
    • If a student doesn’t complete an assessment, considering using alternative forms of evidence or past evidence of learning from before school closures. 
    • However, in light of the current learning context and considering the desired meaning of grades (see above), it doesn’t seem appropriate for a student grade to be lower after school closures than it was before the closure.

More than anything, use your professional judgment when making these pedagogical decisions. Strive for a balance between learning, grace, and understanding.

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