Why did I conduct this action research?
These insights have led us to reflect on our feedback process with our students as well as the reporting process. KIS reports four times a year. In October and March, progress reports with narrative comments are issued. In December and June semester reports with MYP 1-7 grades are issued. The feedback on the narrative report cards has not always been useful to our students and parents because it was summative rather than formative. Students have not had an opportunity to construct meaning from the feedback to make subsequent improvements as they have moved on to the next unit of learning. Additionally, the language used for narrative reports was usually academic and based on the published MYP assessment criteria descriptors, which made it difficult to decipher. The feedback was inaccessible to some students and parents due to the language barrier. We also observed that students lack strategies and tools to bridge their learning gaps as many of the comments were very general and contained little or no specific strategies to guide students on goal setting and move them forward. Last but not least, teachers spent a substantial amount of time grading summative assessments and providing feedback in order to collect evidence for the October and March report card comments. Students work endlessly to complete many summative assessments from different subjects in a very short period of time. The workload of teachers and students often causes them to burn out and has a negative impact on their well-being. Burnout decreases the self-efficacy of teachers and students and has a negative impact on their emotional health and motivation. Teachers and students are often observed being stressed and exhausted during the narrative report card writing periods.
With this in mind, a group of teachers launched the Formative Assessment and Feedback Project in an effort to foster student and teacher self-regulation and well-being in 2017. The aim of this action research project is to investigate how implementing a systematized formative assessment and feedback process model can engage students proactively with feedback and simultaneously promote teacher agency. It is a communication framework that promotes teachers and students being intentional, fostering craftsmanship, and developing collaborative partnerships.
The theoretical framework of interactive feedback system
It is a two-part process whereby self-regulated teachers (a) follow the assessment procedures focusing on formative assessment design that enables students to successfully demonstrate their knowledge, skills and conceptual understanding in summative assessment; (b) involve students in goal setting and provide them with targeted feedback; (c) train students to use the Feed Up, Feed Back, and Feed Forward feedback system developed by Hattie (Hattie & Timperley, 2007) to foster students’ self-regulation. Guiding questions are designed in each distinct phase in the established Feed Up, Feed Back, and Feed Forward feedback system to guide teachings in providing effective feedback and encourage students to think critically about their learning, monitoring development, interacting with feedback, identifying strategies and actionable steps in order to reach their desired learning goals.
The aim of our action research was to investigate the interactions of developing self-regulating learners through a systematic formative feedback process. We designed an Interactive Formative Feedback Model Implementation Procedure to carry out this research following Sadler’s (1989) three key conditions that assessment capable teachers do to cultivate assessment capable students. The three key conditions are (1) The assessment capable teacher communicates standards to students so they understand what constitutes quality work. (2) The assessment capable teacher provides substantive opportunities for students to evaluate the quality of the work they have produced, and helps them develop the metacognitive skills to engage in these practices. (3) The assessment capable teacher provides opportunities for students to modify their own work during its production.
Our findings showed that when the same subject criteria consistently was applied to provide students with feedback and assess their performance, it helped students to further identify their strengths and weaknesses in the subject as the same assessment standards and language were used. Students were familiar with the MYP Language and Literature assessment criteria, Analyzing, Organization, Producing Text, and Using Language. Teachers were required to create task-specific clarification based on the published MYP assessment criteria to help students understand the language used in the official criteria descriptors and to define specific assessment tasks relating to the unit of work without changing the semantic meaning of the MYP assessment criteria descriptors. Our assumption was that when the task-specific clarification was provided, students could benefit from using the information to monitor their progress and check the quality of their work. Unfortunately, this was not always true. Students found the language used in the task-specific clarification remained unclear and ambiguous. Students rarely used task-specification to monitor and evaluate their progress. Instead, the provision of previous student work samples, guest speakers to deliver speeches, in class quizzes, and constant opportunities for questions and answers were found most helpful by students. Developing the task-specific clarification in partnership with students is one way to engage students to use the task-specific clarification proactively and ensure accessibility of the assessment criteria. Furthermore, students can also use the provided work sample to identify effective and ineffective elements of the work samples based on the published MYP assessment criteria.
Results showed that providing work samples not only reduced students’ uncertainty of the task, but also enabled them to see how the learned content knowledge and skills were used to demonstrate subject understanding. After seeing the student work samples, students’ motivation was increased and anxiety was decreased. Students' beliefs of being able to perform the task was enhanced as students developed a more complete picture of the end product. They compared their draft to the sample work and identified actions to improve their work. Having an exemplar was particularly helpful to the EAL and low learning ability students, as well as students who lacked confidence in the subject. One suggestion is to include exemplars at various levels in addition to a work sample of excellent quality. This will further reduce cognitive load of students who have lower learning and/or language abilities.
When the teacher provided personalized feedback and made connections with their learning goals, students were motivated to improve their work as they felt they were on track to meet their desired goal. Students appreciated it when the teacher provided positive and encouraging feedback on their specific learning performance before offering suggestions for improvement. It enhanced the relationship between the teacher and the student as students felt the teacher got to know them better. The teacher consistently organized his comments under the relevant criteria and also brought a level of feedback specificity which enhanced students’ understanding of the effective and ineffective elements of the work and the assessment standards. This might also be a factor to reduce students’ cognitive load in responding to feedback and completing their task. A suggestion is to offer specific actions as tactics to help low level achieving students implement strategies provided by the teacher, while continuing to prompt them to think and self identify actions for improvement. High level performing students show the ability to interpret the self-regulatory feedback provided by the teacher through prompts and questions. Low level performing students did not always have the skills and knowledge to make sense of this type of feedback.
Throughout the learning process and feedback, students received strategies to improve their knowledge. The result revealed that students did not receive explicit strategies to help them monitor their work and keep their motivation. As was indicated in the interviews, the metacognition strategies were not made explicit to students. An assumption was that students in the final year of the MYP should be equipped with strategies to plan, monitor and evaluate their work. As we observed the steady development of the EAL student in her declarative, procedural, and conditional knowledge, resulting in planning explicit instruction in metacognition strategies, seperating from subject knowledge, will be beneficial. Students in low level performing groups are not always aware of their strengths and weaknesses and guidance will be needed to help them set appropriate learning goals instead of only set goals to complete the task set by the teacher. Providing prompt questions to guide reflection was helpful. To further support students with low learning ability and limited language skills, sentence starters and modeling how to reflect critically can also be useful. Workload distribution has an impact on student motivation and confidence to perform their tasks at all levels. Explicit strategies to help students develop organization skills and affective skills can support them in completing their tasks with reduced stress and anxiety.
Personalising intentional feedback has a variety of benefits for student learning. First, it invites the student to consider their work from a new perspective as they are not just being told what to fix, they are given options to enhance their work. Second, it helps students see their work as something that can be improved and refined. They start to see the process of learning and not just the product. Finally, it creates a closer relationship between the teacher and the student. A dialogue is created through the feedback process.
Despite the application of the theory-based approach to conduct our action research, there were a couple limitations. First, the teacher who was involved in this research process has substantial experience in teaching and is familiar with the feedback system developed by Hattie. If our proposed interactive formative feedback model were to be implemented by others teachers, professional development should be provided to equip teachers with fundamental philosophies of formative assessment and feedback to increase their feedback capacity. Another limitation we had was our student sample. We work in an established international school and the student population is more homogeneous regarding their performance level and their parents’ socioeconomic status. Additionally, our students enrolled in the MYP programme were familiar with inquiry-based teaching and learning. They have been constantly encouraged to think and reflect. When the teacher provided self-regulatory feedback, even though the low level performing students did not always make sense of the self-regulatory feedback, they still managed to respond although at a superficial level.
Action research complete report
- Frey, Nancy, et al. “Developing ‘Assessment Capable’ Learners.” Developing "Assessment Capable"Learners, vol.75,no.5,Feb.2018,pp.46–51.
- Hattie, John, and Helen Timperley. “The Power of Feedback.” Review of Educational Research, vol. 77, no. 1, 2007, pp. 81–112., doi:10.3102/003465430298487.
- Sadler, D. Royce. “Formative Assessment and the Design of Instructional Systems.” Instructional Science, vol. 18, no. 2, 1989, pp. 119–144., doi:10.1007/bf00117714.