Students as Formative Assessment Partners

“Creating a climate that maximizes student accomplishment in any discipline focuses on student learning instead of assigning grades. This requires students to be involved as partners in the assessment of learning and to use assessment results to change their own learning tactics.” (p. 136) The authors of this comment continue by pointing out that this assessment involves the use of formative feedback and that feedback has the greatest benefit when it addresses multiple aspects of learning. This kind of assessment should contain feedback on the product (the completed task) and feedback on progress (the extent to which the student is improving over time). The article then describes a number of formative feedback activities that illustrate how students can be involved as partners in the assessment process. Their involvement means that formative feedback can be given more frequently.

Three-color group quiz — Students prepare for a quiz on a specified topic. Groups of four or five students assemble in class and first take the short-answer quiz individually. They write their answers in black with their books closed. Then the group collaborates by discussing questions they haven’t answered or answers about which they have doubts or need more details. After that discussion they may revise what they have written, only that information is written in green ink. Finally, the group is allowed to access textbooks, notes taken in class, and other resources. That material is added to their responses in blue ink. This approach allows students to gauge the level of their knowledge against the knowledge of others in their group and the content contained in course materials. The teacher can comment on these proportions when providing feedback on the quiz. Students reported an overwhelming preference for this approach over the traditional quiz. Most noted that they never looked up material they did not know after taking a traditional quiz. This strategy is designed so that they must.

Midterm student conferencing — The goal of these conferences is to connect with individual students, provide descriptive feedback, and review student performance so far in the course. The unique characteristic of these conferences is that students lead the conference, as in students are doing most of the talking. Several weeks before the conference, the teacher gives students the conference format and criteria. This allows them time to collect materials, reflect on their class performance, and think about what they will say. The teacher takes notes, answers questions, offers suggestions, and gives his/her perspective on the student’s performance. These midterm conferences mean that there is time for students to make changes. They also develop rapport between the teacher and students, making it more likely that students will approach the teacher with questions and concerns.

Assignment blogs — Designed to encourage communication, collaboration, and dissemination of feedback, assignment blogs can be used to “receive questions and provide feedback about certain aspects of an assignment.” (p. 140) Because they are open-access, if a student asks a good question, all students can benefit from reading the teacher’s response, and if many students have the same question, rather than repeating the answer, the teacher can give it once. Teachers can also use the assignment blogs to identify general areas of concern based on previous student work or to offer feedback to the class as a whole, thereby allowing students the chance to self-assess.

One of the authors notes that activities like these improve students’ critical-thinking skills. She writes, “You can’t just say, ‘Think critically’ and expect students to understand how to do it. The word critically often creates a negative perception of what critical thinking is all about. Instead, by thoughtfully trying to improve each other’s products, students naturally engage in the analytic and generative processes we call critical thinking. As a result, not only are student products better, but students improve in thinking and communication skills as well.” (p. 139)

Reference: Fluckiger, J., Tixier y Virgil, Y., Pasco, R., and Danielson, K. (2010). Formative Feedback: Involving Students as Partners in Assessment to Enhance Learning. College Teaching, 58, 136-140.

Reprinted from The Teaching Professor, 25.5 (2011): 3.