Feedback to a former you

It’s my first year of standards based grading and I recently handed back our first major assessment.  I had glanced at the assessments but hadn’t written anything on them myself.  I planned to have students mark up their papers themselves – but they weren’t GRADING them.  Here’s what I did…

I handed out red pens so that the feedback they were about to write would stand out from what they had written earlier on the assessment.

I grabbed our syllabus and reviewed with them what it meant to actually ‘master’ a learning goal by rereading our requirements for ‘Mastery’ and the other ‘level of understanding’ rankings – Progressing, Starting, and No Evidence. (for more on these, see this post on my grading policy)  I emphasized the ‘high bar’ of showing ‘Mastery’.

I then had them get out their learning goal sheets that listed the goals for unit 1.  They were to going to put on their ‘learning goal goggles’ (see Tony Borash’s post on what happened when he did this with his students)  I asked them to sift through the assessment and identify which questions or parts of questions were an assessment of which goal.  They began reading back and forth between the goals and the assessment saying things like “All of question 4 is goal 1.2 because we had to draw the graph and write the math equation.” and “No part C is an assessment of 1.3 because it says in 1.3 that we are explaining what the parts of the graph mean.”  They really had to look in detail at each goal and think about each phrase or word it contained and how it fit with the task they had to do on the assessment.

After about 5 minutes I pulled up my solutions to the assessment on the projector screen at the front and began discussing appropriate responses to show mastery on each question.  After we went through the first two questions that assessed goal 1.1  I told students to “give feedback to your former self.” Give constructive criticism to that ‘former you’.  Give them tips on how they can demonstrate mastery on their next assessment or positive feedback on aspects of their responses that did show mastery.  Avoid superficial things like “Great!” and “Bad job here”, focus on writing things like “Elaborate on this explanation.” or “A diagram would help show understanding…draw a graph to go with this response.”  Tell them how they can improve, even if you think they did fairly well.  Base the feedback solely on the work that is on the paper and how it compares to the learning goal and our criteria for mastery.  (For more on having students think about their ‘former selves’ see this great blog post by John Burk.)

I thought that as we went through the assessment students might think that since they understood my explanation that they really did understand it when they took the assessment.  So I kept emphasizing that the feedback they were writing was based only on what that ‘former self’ wrote on their paper, NOT what they thought they understood now as we talked through it.  What if a student really did now understand the concept after talking through this as a class?  Great!…they’ll have another opportunity to show this in the future, but we were only giving feedback on the work that the ‘former self’ showed.  I thought this would force students to think carefully about how I would assess their work in the future, since the work is what conveys understanding (and understanding is all I base their grade on).

After we finished looking at each question or two that assessed a goal, I had students give themselves a ranking (M,P,S,N) using a checklist that I shamelessly ‘borrowed’ from Kelly O’Shea’s excellent blog post on her use of “Conjunctive Standards-Based Grading”.  I emphasized to students that they were not helping themselves by ranking themselves with an ‘M’ if they truly did not understand the goal.  They were helping themselves more if they gave themselves a ‘P’ and some feedback on how to improve.  I told them “Forget grades for the moment…think about the understanding!  You will have another chance to show mastery.”  They weren’t really grading themselves, they were rating their understanding.  Many questions came up like “I just made a minor error, will this count?” and “I seriously just didn’t read the instructions.”  I persisted with..”Give the work a ranking.  If you think that the ‘former you’ demonstrated mastery, give it an ‘M’, if you don’t feel that way, give it a ‘P’.”  I tried to avoid saying yes or no so students would have to evaluate the work themselves.  Plus, I informed them that I had the final say of what their understanding level was since I would be reading them.

After students turned in their work, I went through each assessment and wrote my own feedback in blue ink so that it would stand out from their red ink feedback.  Now they had gotten feedback from two people!  Honestly, I felt like students wrote most of my feedback for me 🙂  There were definitely students who did not write great feedback to themselves.  That’s where my blue pen came in handy!  However, with more practice I think their feedback will improve.


There were two goals for this process:

1. To help students understand exactly what it means to assess understanding of a learning goal.  I want my assessment practices to be completely transparent.

2. Metacognition.  Students had to sift through many tasks they were asked to do and tie them all back to the core learning goals for the unit.  They also had to think about what they were thinking while taking the assessment the first time and write comments on how their thinking could improve.  Further they had to think about what ‘Mastery’ meant, reflect on the qualities of mastery, and what it would look like on paper.  They had to evaluate and rate their understanding, which is more challenging than simply checking to see if each answer was ‘correct’.

I think students walked away from this with more feedback, better feedback, a better understanding of our assessment practices, and perhaps a better understanding of the learning goals.  Thanks to the teachers I mentioned in this post for sharing their work…it has impacted my students.


Filed under Standards Based Grading

5 responses to “Feedback to a former you

  1. Thanks for sharing your learning process of the goings-on within your class- I love the concept of what you can learn from “future you”. Here’s an old post on the concept of “former you” vs. “future you”, in case you’re interested:

    I also appreciate the shout-out on the “3D glasses” – this activity was easily the most informative for the students in terms of what it means to reach mastery within a given set of standards, and I am inspired by what you were able to do to “beef it up”. I hope your students were equally as appreciative.

    • Sam

      Had to give credit where due. Unfortunately I’ve been so busy with this new assessment system that I haven’t made time to post more about it! I hope I’ll be able to soon. I dig the post on ‘Repeats’…it’s funny that in classrooms students think it’s silly to do something more than once. Why don’t students view physics problems like they view free throws?

  2. Hey! I teach Grade 4 Math and we just had a conversation about how we might try something exactly like this with our Grade 4s but it was still in discussion phase as we haven’t been sure how we would go about it. It was insane to stumble across your post and totally inspiring to see that it has been done, done well, and with older students! Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Sam

    I’m sure this could work well with younger kids! – start em’ early. It’d be way easier as a high school teacher if my students already had the habit of giving self-feedback (or at least seeking it from others). You should let me know how it goes. Thanks for your thoughts and good luck!

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