Assessments or Facebook? Decisions, Decisions

Who would have known that the subject of assessments wasn’t boring? It sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? A whole class all about testing. I hated tests, I was crappy at tests, and as a grade school student, I failed many, many tests. I pretty much avoided assessments as a class as long as I could, until it was required of me in my very last semester at Michigan State. Then came the light.

I came to understand that assessments are about structuring your lessons and teaching so that students are learning effectively. A large part of that is awareness of where your students are in their learning process and using that information to adjust your teaching accordingly. Assessments are more about the process of learning than about gathering information for grades. And I love that.

The effective part steps in when you use assessments to give students more information about their work that they will hopefully use. This comes in the form of feedback of some sort. I know that the teachers reading this are familiar with quality, effective assessment, but a refresher never hurt anyone. And for those of you that aren’t teachers, it’s always something good to know.

In “Facilitating effective use of feedback in higher education,” Anders Johnson (2012) looks at the research about effective feedback and synthesizes the information for us. The result is that Johnson gives us five specific evidence-based tools for giving feedback: Feedback needs to be useful, students prefer specific, detailed and individualized feedback, authoritative feedback is not productive, students may lack strategies for productive use of feedback and students may lack understanding of academic terminology or jargon.

Here is how this might look in the classroom.



Assessments or Facebook? Decisions, decisions

You don’t want to be the last person left working in the building but that happens more often than not. It’s even harder around the middle of the school year because by the time you’re done it’s dark as you walk to your car in the parking lot. You’re just about to go home, yet you feel like you should already be in bed.

You’re committed to your students, and you value giving them feedback on their work that you feel good about. As you work through the homework, you glance at the stack of papers on your desk and think of all the synonyms for pile: mound, column, heap . . . there must be more.

The one you’re currently reading needs something. It’s a rough draft, so formal comments aren’t necessary, and you’re just jotting down notes in the column. “Give specific examples. Think of a time when you were confused about something a classmate said in class. I’m sure I remember you mentioning this during the discussion.”

As you’re about to move on, you erase the word “Give” in the first sentence and replace it with “Can you give.” You like to engage the students in a dialog about their work, and Arthur especially appreciates that.

You continue working, but it doesn’t take long before a short break sneaks its way into your process. A few minutes on Facebook, a few minutes reading the email from your friend in Ames then a long stretch that somehow leads you to a cat video and then another . . . and another. You chuckle as you close the windows of distraction and think, “Cats really make life worth living.”

You would ideally like to finish up this one paper and then go home, so you rally yourself to finish it. You open up the recording function of the class page on Moodle and create a comment to focus Arthur on the revisions. “One thing to keep in mind is that the objective we are working toward is to make improvements upon your writing skills. One very effective way to do that is to learn from your mistakes by making corrections on your work. This helps to reinforce your understanding. So make corrections that I noted and/or reply to my comments, and we can look further at that area.” You attach the comment to the assignment and the system notifies him that there is a message waiting.

You’re done for the day. Not finished, because a teacher is hardly ever finished, but you’ve done your share. You shut down your computer, gather your things and leave the building. Now you can watch all the cat videos you could ever want. Until tomorrow. But you leave with one less essay in the mountain, mass . . . stack on your desk. That’s something.

Some things to think on:

  1. Which of these techniques do you currently use?
  2. Which could you easily implement?
  3. Are there any that you disagree are useful/effective for giving feedback?

Tools I Used:

Pixabay for the photo.


Johnson, A. (2012). Facilitating effective use of feedback in higher education. Active Learning in Higher Ed, 14(1), 63-76. DOI: 10.1177/1469787412467125.


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