Why do you look at student work? Is your analysis and evaluation of student work for grading–student centered or for reflection on your own teaching & learning–teacher-centered?
Conventional Use of Student Work
As teachers, we examine student work every minute of every day. Some of that work is intangible: discussion of concepts, generation of questions, reshaping of thought. Some of that work is tangible: written work recorded in pen or pencil, presentations captured in multimedia, products or designs drafted as authentic representations. Regardless of the form student work takes, we are continually assessing what our students share with us and in light of their sharing, we adjust. We adjust feedback to support their learning. We adjust our instructional approach to meet their changing needs. We adjust their grades to reflect achievement or growth.
Most commonly, looking at student work is an independent teacher task that requires looking at every piece of individual student work. One teacher looks at or evaluates the work of 20 students, 40 students, 150 students and does that in the vacuum of his or her own head. In looking at student work through a formative lens, the teacher knows the task assigned and provides descriptive feedback, information regarding the work examined, that the student can use the feedback to improve on their learning outcome, can edit the task and move the final product closer to the expectation target. In looking at student work through the summative lens, teachers apply rubric scales or statistical formulas to determine measures of student achievement and assign students a grade or make a proficiency judgment.
Contemporary Approach to Looking at Student Work
A contemporary method for looking at student work turns the table on how student products are viewed. Rather than teachers independently appraising student work for the purposes of student feedback or grades, a collaborative approach brings teachers together to examine student work as a tool to inform.
There are various types of information teachers can glean from student work. Teachers may gather and look at representative samples of student work to measure the rigor of the task or the alignment of the task to instruction or standards. Teachers may gather over a portfolio of work produced by a single student to use as a case study of how disciplinary content and skills are successfully (or unsuccessfully) learned. Teachers may gather over single or samples of student work to analyze the instructional process preceding the work and to hone pedagogical craft.
Regardless of the precise purpose for the collaborative analysis of student work, the general context serves as a source of discussion source around instructional processes that prompted the outcomes not as a discussion of how well the student performed. The goal of the collaborative effort is to use student work to reflect how teaching impacted student learning and moreover, consider how student work, i.e., the outcomes of learning could be improved by tweaking content, instructional pedagogy, and/or assessment. This Teacher Tube video, Critical Friends, captures a sense of how looking at student work through a collaborative lens may work.
What does it take to pull this collaboration off? Participants stepping into a student work cadre must first be open to self-reflection and willing to change existing practice. They must enter with a willingness to share and accept critiques of previous practices as means to improve professionally. In that same vein, participants must shake off defensiveness and examine the body of student work through the mind of the student. Group members cannot make excuses for why the student may or may not have produced the type or level of work the teacher expected; instead, the participants must see the task and the instruction through the lens of the student or they will not be able to identify weaknesses in the instructional process or the language of the assessment prompt.
Let me share a brief example. I was working with a group of math teachers who were analyzing student work on a common assessment. They had written multi-parted testing items that in some cases showed the work of a fictitious student. The problem was to explain if and why or how the answers and work shown were correct or incorrect—what had gone right or wrong in the thinking. But many of the students failed to really explain and only responded with something like, “when I do the work, this is the answer I get.”
The teacher discussion went something like this, “Well, I taught them that when they see this kind of item, they are to explain fully, take the incorrect response and analyze it—part by part, explaining what they saw and how it should be corrected.” But nowhere in the task was there explanation or description of what the teacher expected to see in the response. The teachers expected the students to recall something that had been done in class and replicate that on this assessment. The teachers’ responses were defensive. As the facilitator, I gently interceded. The discussion shifted back to the item and they realized the way the item was written did not prompt students to perform the task the way the teachers expected. They went to the work at hand and rewrote the item with precise language.
To stay on task, the collaborative process, looking at student work requires a protocol and several are available online and divide the task into several steps. The first step often involves the presenter, the teacher bringing the student sample, reviewing the task and backgrounding the instruction leading up to the task. The student work is then distributed among the participants who take a few minutes to note what they see, then one-by-one provide an objective description of the actual student work. The process works best if shared round-robin to deflect those who might duck out of sharing and limit those who would steal the show. The description phase establishes a decorum of objectivity and forces more attention to the details of the student work.
In some cases, the student work is distributed first. In these situations, the teachers note and then describe what they see. Thereafter, the presenting teacher backgrounds the task, expectations, and instructional processes. In any case, the goal of the collaborative assessment of student work is one of reflection on the professional practice of teaching with the goal of deep learning. Let me share several resources with you:
Online Resources for Looking at Student Work
Chapter 3 of Protocols for Professional Learning (Easton, 2009) provides a concise guide to four protocols for looking at student work, three which focus on a single piece of student work and can be completed in about one-hour: Tuning Protocol, Rounds Protocol, and the Collaborative Assessment Conference Protocol. The Vertical Slice protocol takes a bit more planning and looks at a number of student samples (either across a single student’s learning, several samples across a grade or discipline, etc.) and would be better used by groups familiar with the process.
Achieve, Inc., a nonprofit established in 1986 and based in Washington, D.C., has developed the EQuIP Student Work Protocol for evaluating the rigor and alignment of a single task to the Common Core Standards. The free, fully downloadable materials set was initially designed for application to the CCSS, however, I see no reason the protocol could be used alongside any set of standards. Simply supplant disciplinary standards in the place of references to the Common Core. The EQuIP Student Work Protocol provides a student work analysis chart to guide discussion, description, and analysis of the task as well as note taking space for each of the five steps delineated and described:
- Step 1: Analyze the Task
- Step 2: Examine Instructional Context and CCSS Alignment of the Task
- Step 3: Analyze Individual Student Work
- Step 4: Analyze the Collection of Student Work
- Step 5: Provide Suggestions for Improving the Materials
Another useful tool comes from the website, Looking at Student Work (LSW), an organization growing out of a 1998 meeting hosted by 1998, hosted by the Chicago Learning Collaborative. LSW provides protocols, resources, and research. Yet another online resource, Teaching Matters, a nonprofit from New York with a twenty –year history offers a toolkit, Preparing to Look at Student Work with four protocols: Basic Protocol, Tuning Protocol, Atlas Protocol, and Examining Student Work. Like LSW, it too provides additional resources.
Irrespective of the tool you choose, the guiding principles for analyzing student work as a collaborative effort remain the same. The student work offers educators a glimpse into the working mind of their students, not as means to evaluate the learner but as a means to evaluate the professional in the room.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Saida Raya
Goodwin, B. & Hein, H. (2016). “Research Says / Looking at Student Work Yields Insights.” Educational Leadership, 73(7). 79-80.
(2016). “Tell Me About … / How Your Group Examined Student Work.” Educational Leadership, 73(7). 91.Nidus, G. & Sadder, M. (2009).
“Learning from Student Work.” Educational Leadership, 66(5). na.Share Online