I have been an educator for thirty years. I began as an English teacher, was a principal twice, and now find myself teaching secondary education methods courses at Sam Houston State University. Despite the age or the subject area taught, I always dealt with reluctant learners.
I learned that reluctance is often not a form of stubbornness or laziness. In fact, most often it deals with the self-efficacy of students who simply lose faith in their abilities along their educational journeys. This is because assessment is deeply personal. We all have memories of getting back assignments covered in red or with an â€śF,â€ť along with the associated sense of shame. When this happens consistently, self-doubt sets in. Repeated self-doubt, in particular in mastery situations, usually leads to low self-esteem and apathy, all hallmarks of students at risk.
When I was a principal, I was fortunate to attend numerous conferences on assessment.Â It was here I learned how to use formative assessment to turn students of self-doubt into students willing to try, with little dollops of success leading them back into the land of effort.Â The good news is, itâ€™s not difficult to do and works well despite the age of the learner.Â Many formative assessment strategies exist, but I will share an example that helped one of my secondary methods students. April was a willing student, but I could tell immediately from her lesson plans and other written work that she was a student who must have struggled for years.
While I used formative assessment strategies with the entire class, I gave her large amounts of descriptive feedback, the cornerstone of formative assessments. Doesnâ€™t sound earth shattering, does it?
However, itâ€™s how the feedback is used that counts. When April would turn in an assessment for grading, I would give her copious descriptive feedback tied to the standards associated with the assessment before it received a grade. Sometimes it took several iterations, but as the semester wore on, I could see her confidence grow, in particular in lesson planning, where she really struggled. At the end of the semester, I received a thank you card from her in which she wrote, â€śThank you for giving me the support I needed to keep tryingâ€ť and â€śI learned SO much in this course, I am confident I will do well in student teaching.â€ť That was worth every minute I spent offering the feedback!
Aside from descriptive feedback, I offer students models of strong and weak work and let them score the models with rubrics I use to assess assignments. They then bring drafts to class and score each otherâ€™s work and offer each other descriptive feedback. If needed, I offer more. To be honest, once students are in the mode of giving and receiving feedback based on standards and criteria they know, the grading for me is very easy; they have done the majority of the work. Feedback ultimately saves time; most importantly, feedback increases learning and student self-efficacy.
The grade finally occurs, but these strategies give students the confidence to try with no risk. They know what quality is and how to reach it. With the focus on learning and not grades, the anxiety wanes and they learn how to learn. Reluctance turns to confidence.