Student Voice Infused Assessment Conferencing

This past week I wrote my report cards.

You know that feeling, right?

It’s tediously time consuming.

It’s crunching the calculator.

It’s void of student voice.

And it’s horrible on my mental health (let alone my students’).  

But this time it was different.  This time I made one small change that, as it turns out, has changed everything.  Just one small difference in how my reports cards are written altered how my students feel about assessment, how they define success in our classroom, and how they set goals for themselves moving forward.

Allow me to explain.

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It all started when my wife and I attended our 9 year old’s parent teacher interview.  His teacher used a self-assessment our son had completed as the basis for our discussion about his learning.  Using a simple 3-point scale:

1 = I seldomly do

2 = I do it most of the time

3 = I rock this and do it all of the time!!

Our son Ewan reflected on the learning objectives of his time in grade 4.  He self-assessed a lot of 2s and 3s and upon sharing the assessment with us his teacher shared that she felt Ewan under assessed in many areas.  In fact, she was a bit surprised he didn’t see himself in the same light that she viewed him in. We were left with some awesome information to discuss with our little guy about his perception of his learning within his learning community.  My wife and I found this chat much more meaningful and helpful than anything we had encountered in the reporting process to date in his education. I was so impressed that I decided to do something similar with my high school students.

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That evening I created a Google Form for my students to begin to reflect on the learning objectives from our course.  I copied and pasted these learning objectives right from our curricular documents and tweaked a few to make them more student friendly language.  Have a look at the form here.

In class the next day I proposed our reporting process.  Students would prepare the following for an assessment conference with me:

  • Complete the self-assessment form

  • Reflect on a few key skills of our course (such as collaboration, communication, and critical thinking)

  • Identify the strengths they bring to their own learning

  • Narrow their focus on a future learning goal for the coming term

  • Attach a strategy they can use to help them meet this future learning goal

  • Reflect on their body of work from the term and in doing so identify a grade that they feel reflects this body of work

  • Spend a bit of time rehearsing for our assessment conference

I gave them the rest of the class time to prepare for our meetings.  In the meantime I arranged for a colleague to support my students in class as I would call them out individually for our conferences in the hall.  While students awaited their conference turn they either rehearsed and prepared for the meeting or worked on our next writing assignment with the colleague in the room.  This was awesome as my students were well supported in their learning while I was focused on meeting with them to discuss their assessment. Here in BC each teacher has a small amount of release time we can use to focus on better meeting the needs of our most diverse students (it is called Remedy Time).  I used this release for our conferencing.

Each meeting was approximately 5 minutes.  I teach 7 blocks of grade 10-12 English and work with over 150 students.  The conferencing took two days. Those students who were absent during the conference days scheduled an alternative time to discuss their learning.

I began the conference asking each student to speak to their self-assessment.  I then asked for them to share a future learning goal for the coming term as well as a strategy to help support them in meeting this goal.  As they spoke I typed their reflection into their report cards comment on my computer. I then read the comment back to them and asked if they approved.  Each and every student glowed when they heard the words that would be on their report card - that their parents would read.

“A strong collaborator who does well in small groups, Jackson perfectly shares the workload with others and specifically enjoys working with a friend.  A self-identified strength is his communication with others. Jackson always seeks out clarification from Mr. MacKenzie and his peers. He enjoys receiving and giving feedback to improve and broaden his perspective.  Work ethic is another area of strength for Jackson. He is on-task and does his work in a timely manner. A future learning goal is to improve his essay writing. A strategy to help in this area is to utilize a peer edit to revise his work”.

We concluded our conference by reviewing their body of work from the entire term and coming to a grade together.  In the previous months I had been recording both formative and summative assessments from their learning. Students knew these marks coming into our conference.  When they selected their mark we compared it to what I had recorded and time and time again, we were nearly bang-on! Students self-assessment mirrored my assessment pretty darn closely.  How powerful is that? If students under assessed I shared with them that I believed a higher mark was warranted. If they over assessed we reviewed their body of work more closely and we either agreed on a lower mark or we agreed on the higher assessment on the condition that we would work together towards that grade in the coming term.

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It should be noted that all of my students have been co-designing criteria and rubrics throughout the term and have been supported in self-assessing their learning each and every step of the way.  By the time I arrived at this inspired place to have their voice be a driving force in their report cards, they were much more comfortable with the process and able to discuss their learning using the language we’ve embedded in the classroom throughout our time together.

Some of the added benefit I witnessed from this process, both from my perspective and the students’:

  • Students loved that their self-assessment actually impacted their term mark and wasn’t merely an activity they participated in.  They understood their grade so much better.

  • They appreciated that they had clarity in their grade and a conversation about learning rather than just a number or percentage being weighed and created by a computer.

  • Students felt like they had a better understanding of their learning and how to improve in the future.  They enjoyed setting a personal learning goal as opposed to being told they aren’t good at something.

  • They shared that they tended to under assess and hearing that I believed their mark should be higher made them feel “warm and fuzzy”.

  • Students felt like I was able to get to know them better since they led the conference and shared particular details about their learning that they wanted to draw my attention to.

  • Students did not “grade grub” or over assess or over advocate for a mark.  Students were not picking their own grade. We had a conversation about their body of work, looked at the assessments (both formative and summative) from the term, and they stated a mark they felt was warranted.  We worked from this self-assessment to determine their grade together.

When I tweeted out the process I did not expect to receive such excitement or interest in what we had done. Although I am thankful for the energy and support the tweet garnered, I encourage you to not be swayed by a bunch of likes and retweets. I certainly hope this post provides some clarity for you to consider trying this out with your students. I’d love to hear how you are bringing student voice to your assessment practice. Please share using #InquiryMindset and in the comments below. Thank you!

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