To score or not to score?

Last week, I went  on the second part of a course at the National Science Learning Centre in York about extending gifted and more able students in science. Over both residential periods there were many thought provoking moments, but one of the most interesting sessions for me was about assessment and feedback. As teachers, how can we give quality feedback that moves learners forward?

We were shown a video clip of Dylan Wiliam, Professor of Educational Assessment, co-author of Inside the Blackbox and all-round AfL guru, who proposed that when it comes to marking work there are three types of feedback:

  1. A score
  3. A score and comments

What is best? What do you think? Most importantly, what do you do?

The debate that ensued interested me because only recently had we had the same one in our staff meeting when trying to standardise how we would mark the writing assessments that the children do at the end of every half term. The main point of contention – should we give the children their level with the comments or not? Some said yes, some said no. Personally, I fell into the first camp. The children are so aware of levels that they’ll feel cheated if they do the work and don’t get to find out the level I argued.

Dylan Wiliam has changed my view on this. A study of some grade 6 students showed that those who were just given scores as feedback had no gain in their scores and the high scorers in this group felt positive, but the low scorers felt negative. Those who were just given comments and no scores made a 30% gain in scores and both the high and low scorers felt positive afterwards.

So what about giving comments and a score? Surely that’s the best of both worlds? No. Those given both comments and scores, had no gain in their scores and once again, the high scorers felt positive, but the low scorers felt negative. Essentially, if you give children scores and comments, they gloss over the comments and focus on the score so your comments are almost wasted. Not a fact I found pleasing, when I thought about how much time I spend putting together personal, constructive comments.

Another teacher on the course, who had been to a Dylan Wiliam workshop, shared how she has taken comment only marking a step further. When marking writing, she writes her comments on paper rather than in the children’s books and cuts them up. The children then have to work out what comment belongs to them. This really encourages them to analyse their writing as well as really read and digest the comments. Not only that but they end up reading and assessing each other’s work too. Initially you could start doing this in smaller groups and moving on to mixing up the whole class’ comments as they get used to the process, but it’s certainly something I’m going to try.


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