Caught in learning spaces where the only feedback that anyone seems to value are scores given by adults, too many of today’s students sit passively waiting for the judgment of others, stripped of the self-reflective and evaluative skills that literally define the most successful people” (Bill Ferriter, Tempered Radical).
I used to get frustrated when my students asked is this for a grade? Exasperated, I would give them a lecture on why grades should not be the driving force for effort, but that it should be about the learning. I would complain to colleagues that my students didn’t even care about the feedback; they just wanted the grade. It took working in a gradeless environment for me to completely understand the baggage students carried with them around grades, and to realize that it’s not their fault. Think about it: overtime, when feedback continues to come from a person of authority (the teacher), it starts to feel natural to just let the feedback to find us rather than seek it out as a way to improve. And by high school, student learners are so used to waiting for the feedback to find them (did you grade my paper yet? How did I do on the last test?), that they become numb to the purpose behind the feedback. To them, feedback is simply a number or an input in the grade book. This does not bode well for creating a culture of deep learning.
School should be about the learning not about the grade – but is that what we are communicating to all learners? Skyler Tiffin doesn’t think so, and I would agree. After her first year in high school, Skyler reflects on how her perception of grades, feedback and growth have changed over time. She acknowledges low points and moments of frustration that helped her see more clearly that qualitative feedback from multiple perspectives, not just the teacher’s, is the biggest catalyst for change. So if that’s the type of feedback that encourages the most growth, what opportunities are we providing our students to engage in the meaningful projects that elicit this type of feedback from external experts and community members? Skyler digs into the types of projects that fire her up and notices a trend: they have a greater purpose beyond her and greater impact outside the walls of school.
Skyler reminds us that school should be about the learning, but that it will require a massive shift in culture on the part of educators. This shift takes fortitude, commitment and a thick skin because it won’t be easy. Hearing Skyler’s perspective (and she is the voice of many!), it is an imperative that we overhaul not only our assessment practices, but the design of our projects/assessments to be purposeful and connected to the world outside of school. She leaves us with these lingering questions: When learning has a purpose, all learners can do great things – and what if that were school? Why can’t school be a place where we solve real problems now? Why wait?
Challenge: Share with us some of the projects you or your students have engaged in that had purpose beyond the walls of school. Share stories of how assessment and feedback from members of the community enriched the work in your classrooms/at your schools.