As a new teacher, one of the resources I found most helpful in shaping my grading practices was Grant Wiggins’s advice on feedback and assessment. Meaningful feedback, he suggests, is much more than assigning a grade or even offering recommendations for improvement. Rather, meaningful feedback is descriptive, “play[ing] back” the student’s performance and connecting it to the learning outcomes of the course.
In the context of my field, freshmen composition, this means that meaningful feedback involves first describing to a student the strengths and weaknesses of her rhetoric and style, then explaining how those strengths and weaknesses affect my ability to follow and be persuaded by her paper. I work hard to provide such feedback, especially since I am convinced that it plays a key role in helping students learn to write.
Yet I face a real challenge in providing it consistently. In the one-inch margins of a printed paper there’s barely enough space to write a few brief words of advice or critique, let alone provide descriptive and meaningful feedback. I have therefore turned to a technological solution: screencasts.
Screencasts for formative assessment
I first encountered screencasts as a feedback tool several years ago in an online course I was taking for professional development. My instructor used screencasts to comment on my work. Inspired, I started using screencasts the following semester to comment on writing submitted in my face-to-face courses. Since then, I have come to rely on screencasts during both formative and summative assessment.
Like most writing teachers, I regularly collect and comment on partial or incomplete copies of student work, such as an outline or a rough draft. I now use screencasts to assess this work. Specifically, during formative assessment I use screencasts to:
- Visually highlight a passage that needs attention.
- Highlight an error repeated throughout the document.
- Describe errors at length and explain how those errors interfere with my ability to follow the paper and be persuaded by it.
- Employ analogy and example to assist students in understanding the error.
- Demonstrate corrections to an error.
Consider, for example, my work with a student last spring. Although she was a top-notch student, she had a wordy, convoluted writing style. Rather than leaving inscrutable advice in the margins, I created a screencast. I highlighted several examples of wordiness, and then, referring to these examples, described several causes of wordiness in her writing and demonstrated possible ways to cut down on the wordiness. Thanks to the screencast, the student was able to literally see what she was doing wrong as a writer and how to improve it, allowing her to make the changes she needed to tighten up her writing.
Screencasts for summative assessment
Screencasts offer the potential for the precise, descriptive feedback students need to make effective changes in their work. But even when students’ work is finished, screencasts still play a role in assessment; their visual nature makes them a valuable part of summative assessment as well.
During grading, I often use screencasts to:
- Match passages of a student paper with the grading rubric
- Explain my reasoning for a grade fully and conversationally
- Provide alternative feedback to audiovisual learners, or students with learning disabilities
The ability to visually match a student’s paper with the rubric and to explain my reasoning for a grade is especially valuable when the situation is sensitive – for instance, when a student receives a low score despite working hard work on an assignment.
I recently had such a situation in my freshmen literature course. A student who was a diligent worker and an aspiring English teacher, revised a project in hopes of earning a higher score. Unfortunately, the revision remained mediocre. To provide him with feedback, I decided to use a screencast. I clearly highlighted several passages where his work remained weak, then visually connected these with specific standards spelled out in the rubric. This allowed the student to see why his paper received the score that it did, as well as hear my sympathetic tone, softening the moment and providing some encouragement.
I use screencasts as the primary means of providing feedback to students with learning disabilities. When they already have difficulty with written text, it seems unfair to ask that they decipher cramped handwritten notes; the visual nature of the screencast better demonstrates for them the strengths and weaknesses of their work. Thus, the screencast is key in differentiating instruction, making room for diverse learners in the classroom.
Numerous programs exist to aid those who want to integrate screencasts into the assessment process. Personally, I use Screencastify, a Google Chrome extension; and Jing, a user-friendly offshoot of TechSmith. Educational writer Andrew Douchy lists several more options at his blog, including the popular Screencast-o-Matic. Most screencasts have a basic free version and several options for paid versions.
Although a web-based tool, screencasts play a valuable role in face-to-face courses, allowing instructors to offer descriptive and, in Grant Wiggins’ words, “actionable” feedback. With this feedback, students are better able to improve their work and the entire writing process becomes a more positive, fulfilling learning experience.
Douch, Andrew. “The Best Screencasting Software for Teachers.” Douchy’s Blog. 13 Feb 2014. https://andrewdouch.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/the-best-screencasting-software-for-teachers. Accessed 1 June 2017.
Wiggins, Grant. “Seven Keys to Effective Feedback.” Educational Leadership. 70:1 (Sept 2012). 10-16. ASCD. 10-16. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx. Accessed 1 June 2017.
Megan Von Bergen serves as the sole writing and literature instructor at Emmaus Bible College.