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There is no substitute for quality teaching and instruction; unfortunately, virtual and hybrid instructional settings result in limited face-to-face interactions between teachers and students. Consequently, teachers must maximize instructional opportunities to provide feedback to students and should employ formative assessment to gauge student understanding and inform future instruction.
Feedback yields a strong influence on student learning, with an effect size of .70 (Hattie, 2017). This effect size translates to a 26 percentile gain in student achievement. It’s important to remember that formative assessment presents a powerful opportunity for improving student outcomes. Below are several practical suggestions for providing formative feedback to students in hybrid and virtual learning settings.
Suggestion #1: Establish time for individual conferencing and remediation. As a complement to whole-group direct instruction, reserve time to meet with students one-on-one to provide individualized feedback about performance. In language arts, this time could be used to conference about what a student is reading and his or her comprehension of the material, or it could be used to discuss recommended edits and feedback about writing. Alternatively, in math, students could employ metacognitive strategies while explaining their thinking and showing how they solved a problem. Individual conferencing allows for the feedback to be both personalized and immediate for students. Additionally, it ensures the teacher can subsequently personalize future instruction based on individual student needs.
Suggestion #2: Employ a polling feature to obtain a quick snapshot of student understanding. Online polling provides an overview of what all students know and can be integrated seamlessly as a quick opening activity or exit ticket. Zoom, Google Meet, and other platforms include polling as an option for licensed users. By integrating a poll with immediate results, teachers can gauge overall understanding and also assess individual mastery. Additionally, polling provides instantaneous feedback to students about their own performance. Polling features are best designed as a quick check of understanding. A limitation of polling is that they are best designed for assessing lower cognitive tasks.
Suggestion #3: Use low-tech assessment strategies. Even in a virtual classroom, do not automatically deviate from tried and true strategies for measuring student learning. For instance, you can use white boards to see student work and responses for simple response activities, but keep in mind this may be better suited for small group settings or individual conferencing sessions. Additionally, students can use thumbs up/down to show their agreement. All instructional activities do not necessitate a high-level of technical expertise, even if the instruction is virtual.
Suggestion #4: Provide comments and feedback on student work submissions. When assessing and reviewing student work, consider using a comment feature to provide qualitative feedback about student performance. Students can upload or submit pictures or PDFs of their work. Providing comments and responses to student submissions contributes more substantially to the cyclical nature of learning, as opposed to assignments that are simply graded for accuracy. As a comparison, multi-choice assignments are more efficient to grade but do not provide insight into student thinking and limit the opportunities for teacher feedback. Remember: It isn’t the assignment, alone, that is valuable for students: It’s the feedback on the assignment that provides specific guidance for improvement.
Suggestion #5: Use discussion boards to gauge individual and classroom responses to content. Discussion boards can provide a bridge for continuing classroom dialogue beyond the classroom setting. These are typically prompted by a teacher-generated question or stem. Students can continue the conversation by commenting on the ideas of their peers and also citing external resources. Discussion boards also can provide an opportunity for students to reflect and extend their thinking beyond the lesson.
Suggestion #6: Empower students to provide peer-to-peer feedback. Maximize the role that peers can play in the feedback process. The process of providing feedback to peers needs to be regularly modeled and practiced. And once students learn how to provide feedback, it presents a powerful opportunity for students to communicate and collaborate. For substantial tasks and projects, consider incorporating an element in which students provide feedback about their peers’ work or writing. Alternatively, consider utilizing breakout rooms for peers to share their work or to ask and answer questions with their peers.
Suggestion #7: Embrace the need to change summative learning practices. Traditional graded assignments will likely be compromised in this environment, but keep the overarching goal of student learning as your primary focus when making decisions about student assessment. Remember that you cannot control student access to materials or resources when assigning tests or exams. Instead of policing their work and limiting their opportunities to collaborate and be resourceful, consider reframing your strategy for summatively assessing students and instead provide project-based assessments that allow for collaboration, use of resources, and higher-level thinking. Keep in mind that using in-person instructional time for proctoring summative assessments takes away from new learning opportunities and instructional time. Maximize your instructional time with students and instead capitalize on opportunities for formative feedback.
Regardless of the instructional modality, the goal of student learning is the same across settings. These strategies can provide a springboard for maintaining the cyclical nature of student learning and the formative feedback process. Students need opportunities to show what they know and teachers should capitalize on strategies that allow for continued feedback. We hope these brief suggestions prove helpful in your work as a teacher or school leader.
Hattie, J. (2017, November). 250+ Influences on Student Achievement. Visible Learning Plus. https://visible-learning.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/VLPLUS-252-Influences-Hattie-ranking-DEC-2017.pdf
Rachel Previs Ball, Ed.D., currently services as the director of the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School for Marine and Environmental Science while also working on special projects for Stronge & Associates.
Copyright to Stronge & Associates Educational Consulting, LLC, 2021. Permission to use this material within the recipient schools is granted with the requirement that the copyright notice is included.
Stronge and Associates Educational Consulting, LLC (S&A), specializes in researching, developing, and supporting the design and application of educator evaluation systems both in the United States and internationally. We work extensively on the related issues of teacher and leader effectiveness with our research-based hiring protocols, professional development workshops, and technical assistance to districts, states, and other U.S. and international educational organizations.