Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Student meetings for formative assessment

This year is going by in a blur, but I did finally squeeze out a few minutes to blog about something that I've tried this year that I'm really liking. Based on a description in the book, "Creating Cultures of Thinking," I implemented something that the book calls Individual Feedback Sessions (I just call them "regularly scheduled meetings," but sure, pick the fanciest name you think you can get away with), which were created by a teacher profiled in the book. His explanation of this strategy is here, but the gist of it is:

  1. Schedule 20 minute bi-weekly meeting with each student (he recommended meeting with 2 students at the same time, which I would do if I had a more typical class load). I meet with students before school, during lunch, during their free periods (if they overlap with mine), during tutorial, and after school.
  2. Discuss work that the student has turned in during the last two weeks (since the last time you've seen them). Go through their work with them in detail, giving verbal feedback. Either you or the student records a summary of the feedback (I put comments in the online gradebook and ask students to also write some notes in their notebook).
  3. Discuss the student's overall progress in the class, how they're doing incorporating feedback from previous sessions, and ask for questions about the content and for feedback on what you can do to support them better. Follow up on any issues that have come up in class with that student.
I have a schedule of meetings posted on the class page so students know when we're supposed to meet. For students who need a bit of an extra reminder, I have an automated email that emails them the day before our scheduled meeting. It is more work. I do have a much busier schedule during the school day as a result with almost no "free" periods. BUT, I do virtually no grading at home (other than quizzes, which I like to grade more quickly than a 2 week window would allow) AND I feel like students understand my expectations, really hear my feedback, and develop stronger self-advocacy and ownership of their learning. 

Grading papers at home by myself vs. interacting with an actual student about their actual work...
You do the math

Doing this has made it possible for me to assign better problems. I have been using IMP Problem of the Week tasks in my teaching for a long time, but every year, after grading a few write-ups, I became quickly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of grading (how the heck do English teachers do it??) and stopped assigning them. This year, I have already assigned four Problem of the Week write-ups for every class. And graded them all with students. And seen tremendous growth in their ability to describe their process and reasoning. Yes, I do think it's a valuable skill for students to learn to interpret written feedback from teachers, and I plan to do some of this in the second semester (perhaps, I provide written feedback first, then we meet and student explains how they understood it). But in terms of actually understanding and learning from feedback, in person conversations are waaaaaay more effective. Especially when I'm asking students to do mathematical work that they are not used to doing (writing about process, explaining reasoning, providing evidence, using formal notation and clearly annotating work, etc). Overall, I do think it takes more time, but it's much more fun for me and results in more learning for students so I think it's worth it. 

As the semester winds down, I am starting to ask students to give feedback to their own work and to the work of their peers so this is definitely not my only model for feedback. And as always, I'm curious to learn more about others' approaches and ideas on this.


  1. I don't think there's anything better than this kind of feedback. I wish more teachers had time for it. In our current climate, though, we teach 5 or 6 different classes of 35 or more students. Even meeting them 2 at a time just wouldn't be possible.

    1. I think that class time could be set aside for this as well though... even 10 minutes for 2 or 3 students every few weeks would help with communication and quality of feedback, I think.

  2. Such a great idea! Agree it makes the work day a lot busier, but more meaningful feedback, understanding by the students, and more time at home seems worth it. How many students do you have? I'd like to implement this when I get back from maternity leave (using class time, advisory time--which I can do because I have 9th grade for that too, and maybe some after-school).

    1. Hi Kristina! I have a pretty small student load this year because of administrative duties so I only have 36 students. I think that larger class loads could be managed by having students come in pairs and using some class/advisory time. It's really opened up the type of work that I can assign and how much improvement I've seen in students' written work. Let me know if you end up trying it!