One of the most important components of a classroom in which students build skills and learn is a system of effective feedback. Indeed, one of the teacher’s most important jobs is making sure students understand what they are doing well and what they need to improve upon, and how they should go about making those improvements. Without such a system, students will not be able to make meaningful improvements; they will be merely “playing school” rather than building skills. In your class, you probably give two kinds of assessments: formative assessments and summative assessments. Formative assessments are those assessments you give to inform you and the students as to what have learned so far. You do this so that you can know what to teach them next. Summative assessments are those assessments you give at the end of the unit or semester to report on what has been done. In this post I want to introduce you to one of two methods of giving feedback, whether it is for a formative assessment or a summative assessment: evaluative feedback.
Evaluative feedback is the way most of us are accustomed to giving feedback to our students. It is what most parents are accustomed to seeing on their child’s returned papers and on their report cards. Evaluative feedback gives students their standing as it relates to a particular standard. A letter grade on a paper (e.g. B+) is an example of evaluative feedback; a fraction or a percentage on an assignment (e.g. 7/10 or 70%) is an example of evaluative feedback; a comment about how well a student has done on a test (e.g. Good job!) is an example of evaluative feedback.
Evaluative feedback can be a useful tool for the teacher who knows how to use it correctly. There are two instances in which evaluative feedback can be useful to students. The first is when the assessment you are giving feedback on cannot be improved upon. If it is an assessment that is itself final in its nature, then evaluative feedback can be a useful tool. This often coincides with summative assessments. For example, if you give a semester exam to your high school class, evaluative feedback on that exam can be a useful tool. In most cases, semester exams cannot be edited or corrected later. They are not usually returned for the purpose of student improvement. Most of the time, semester exams are final, so simply telling a student that she got a B, or that she got an 85% is plenty of information.
The second instance in which evaluative feedback can be useful is if the assessment is already part of an ongoing instructional process that calls for an in-depth analysis of the student responses. For example, if you give a quiz, collect it, and immediately go over the answers, having students make notes of what they did well and what they did poorly, then you could grade the papers and simply report their scores on the papers in that instance. One way in which we sometimes do a disservice to our students is we give them evaluative feedback when it doesn’t actually help them. Using the same example as above, it would not be very useful to give students a quiz, collect it, write only a percentage on each one, then return it to the students without any discussion. This is a case in which evaluative feedback does not serve the students’ learning process very much because there is no opportunity given by the teacher for reflection and improvement.
As teachers, we recognize that feedback is a critical component of the learning process. Students need to be able to reflect on and improve on their work under the teacher’s direct supervision. It is one of the most effective ways to improve student performance and help them to build the skills they need. Whether the assessment you give is formative or summative in nature, evaluative feedback can be a useful tool if it is used correctly.