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Thursday, 20 March 2014

Teaching Learners to See

Recently I wrote a blog about quality and moderation. I used the example of a kindergarten teacher working with 5- and 6-year-old students by looking at samples of writing. Through this process the teacher is deliberately teaching about quality, deliberately teaching students the language of assessment, and deliberately teaching students how to self monitor their way to success. In our work with teachers at all levels (K-12) we have engaged in similar processes in mathematics, science, social studies, English, the arts, and so on. To put it simply, it is a way to teach students how to give themselves incredibly powerful specific feedback to guide their own next steps. And, because we do this work with all students, they can give powerful peer feedback about quality that supports learning (not marks, grades, or scores that get in the way of learning).

After reading my blog, Royce Sadler shared another article that he wrote that describes a similar process with post-secondary students. In this powerful article (2013) Royce Sadler writes,
“Feedback is often regarded as the most critical element in enabling learning from an assessment event. In practice, it often seems to have no or minimal effect. Whenever creating good feedback is resource intensive, this produces a low return on investment. What can be done? Merely improving the quality of feedback and how it is communicated to learners may not be enough. The proposition argued in Sadler (2010) is that the major problem with feedback is that it has been to date, and is virtually by definition, largely about telling.
Research into human learning shows there is only so much a person typically learns purely from being told. Most parents know that already. Put bluntly, too much contemporary assessment practice is focused on communicating better with students.
Teaching by telling is commonly dubbed the transmission model of teaching. It portrays teachers as repositories of knowledge, the act of teaching being to dispense, communicate or 'impart' knowledge for students to learn. Consistent with that was an early conception of feedback as 'knowledge of results' – simply telling students whether their responses to test items were correct or not. Telling is limited in what it can accomplish unless certain key conditions (touched upon later) are satisfied. By itself, it is inadequate for complex learning. Being able to use, apply, and adapt knowledge, or to use it to create new knowledge, requires more than merely absorbing information and reproducing it on demand.” (2013, p. 55)

Royce Sadler goes on to describe the process he used with a group of students and concludes with this statement,
“Much more than we give credit for, students can recognize, or learn to recognize, both big picture quality and individual features that contribute to or detract from it. They can decompose judgements and provide (generally) sound reasons for them. That is the foundation platform for learning from an assessment event, not the assumption that students learn best from being told. They need to learn to discover what quality looks and feels like situationally. They need to understand what constitutes quality generally, and specifically for particular works. Equally, students need to be able to detect aspects that affect overall quality, whether large or small, and understand how and why they interact. Students need a vocabulary for expressing and communicating both what they find and how they judge, at the least for that part of their evaluative knowledge they can express in words. Only after students have acquired a sufficient basis of appropriate tacit knowledge can they can understand the content and implications of a marker's feedback. At that point, feedback can be effective as learners become more discerning, more intuitive, more analytical, and generally more able to create, independently, productions of high quality on demand.”  (2013, p. 62)
I strongly recommend you find this very readable paper to enjoy. Royce Sadler and I sat beside each other at the International Symposium in Chester 2001. Although he not a member of the Australian team for the 2014 International Symposium in Fredericton, NB, you can get to meet him through his writing. His work continues to inform the research and 'in classroom' practical work of all of us interested in classroom assessment.

Sadler, D. R. (2013). Opening up feedback: Teaching learners to see. In S. Merry, M. Price, D. Carless & M. Taras. (Eds.), Reconceptualising Feedback in Higher Education: Developing Dialogue with Students. (Ch. 5, 54‑63). London: Routledge.
Abstract. Higher education teachers are often frustrated by the modest impact feedback has in improving learning. The status of feedback deserves to be challenged on the grounds that it is essentially about telling. For students to become self-sustaining producers of high quality intellectual and professional goods, they must be equipped to take control of their own learning and performance. How can students become better at monitoring the emerging quality of their work during actual production? Opening up the assessment agenda and liberating the making of judgments from the strictures of preset criteria provide better prospects for developing mature independence in learning.

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