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Assessment in secondary science
Assessment in secondary science

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4.2 Feedback

An important aspect of formative assessment is feedback, which is most effective when it is a dialogue between the student and teacher. Written feedback is important to students; most, if not all, will look keenly at the grades, comments and corrections that their teachers make, and they often share the outcome and comments on their work with each other. Work that goes unmarked is a source of disappointment and can result in students feeling let down and being critical of the teacher. But how can feedback be affective formative assessment?

Activity 6 Features of formative assessments

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Watch the programme ‘Secondary assessment – formative assessment’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (YouTube link here), in which Paul Black and Chris Harrison, authors of the influential pamphlet Working Inside the Black Box, outline what they see as the key features of formative assessment. (Alternatively, you can read a transcript.)

  • In what ways do they advocate the involvement of students in assessment?
  • What negative impact can grades have on low-attaining students?
  • How can teachers use written feedback to develop a dialogue with students?

Marking students’ work is one means to get to know your students and their individual needs. It also provides the opportunity for teachers to have a dialogue with students about their work. Communication is too often one-way from the teacher to the students, who are unlikely to respond to instructive comments such as ‘Complete this …’ or ‘Redraw the diagram’. Students need time to respond to comments when the work is fresh in the mind. Giving students time to read and respond to written feedback is a valuable means of encouraging a dialogue. Feedback might include questions to encourage the students to reflect on their learning. Questions might focus on the work itself, the student’s attitude or feelings towards it, which aspects they have found difficult, or what they want or need to improve. In this way, marking and feedback become an excellent opportunity for you to ‘listen’ to students.

Sharing your marking policy and criteria with students before setting work enables them to think about their work in relation to the criteria. This is one way that you can involve students in the assessment of their learning.

To support learning, the monitoring and assessment that take place in the classroom should always be related to the declared learning outcomes. Feedback given to students should always take the form of constructive comments on what they have done well and how they can further improve their work.