Practice with feedback matters, according to a 2007 study (pdf) published in the British Journal of Educational Technology. I've been hooked on this idea ever since I read Bransford's How People Learn two years ago. It's on my "highly recommend" list for other educators.

"The use of frequent formative assessment helps make students' thinking visible to themselves, their peers, and their teacher." (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 19)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm intrigued by the intersection between standards-based assessment and 21st century learning. In fact, I'm on a continual search for ways in which math education, assessment and technology might work best together. Where does "practice with feedback" fit in then? Without a doubt, formative assessment is a pretty hot topic right now at the Iowa Department of Education. In fact, I was at a district meeting of sorts last night and the "instructional decision making" model came up time and time again in conversation. IDM is the idea that instruction driven by data can help all students improve. K-6 teachers seem to "get it" through their use of DIBELS, BRI and DRA screening probes whereas us secondary folk are...well, assigning homework and giving out quizzes a few times a week! I believe that standards-based assessment/reporting has the potential to enhance my formative assessment practices, because it will better enable me to focus on what I'm teaching and how it should best be assessed. When I bring up connecting standards with assessment, the response I typically get is something like "Well, our text book matches our standards and we use the textbook tests and quizzes, so it must match up." I'm not convinced.

On the flip side, when I hear elementary teachers talk about setting up supplemental groups and choosing several different novels for their students to read based on ability, I admit that I get a bit jealous. It seems to me like the secondary folk are missing the boat somewhere. Math teachers are seldom accused of not giving our students enough practice, but I would like to propose that we are too often lacking in the area of meaningful feedback. The IDM probes referenced above are one way of enabling educators to provide appropriate instruction and in turn, meaningful feedback to those who need it, when they need it, and at a level that is appropriate for them.

Then there's the typical high school math classroom: Giving students a score out of five on a daily basis based on the neatness and accuracy of their answers, ability to show their work, and the responsibility of bringing a checking pen to class doesn't seem like meaningful feedback to me - especially when it takes 24 hours to collect papers, record scores and hand them back. A student said to me a few months ago, "I like knowing if I'm doing it right or!" What is the "answer" to this problem? Several technology-related answers come to mind:
  • Eliminate homework and make the move to more problem-based learning using appropriate technology tools
  • Create some sort of electronic means (Moodle?) of providing meaningful feedback on a daily basis
  • Who cares about homework?! Use student-response systems as daily probes to assess students' understanding
I have already decided to make the answers available to students ahead of time in order to help them get immediate feedback. I'm hoping to create a system that truly does make the students' thinking visible to both them and me. Reporting it out in a standards-based way seem like part of the picture, too. What am I missing in order to make practice with feedback a more visible part of my daily routine?