I attended John Scammell’s excellent 3-morning sessions on Formative Assessment at #TMC15. We were asked to share strategies that we may already be doing to give students feedback . I shared about how I used highlighters for this. I promised my group that I would write a short post about it, but I waited until now since I needed the school year to begin to have student samples to share.
I used highlighting to give my 6th graders feedback on their first PoW (Problem of the Week from The Math Forum).
It’s challenging, as I hope all PoWs are, and even more so when it’s the first one they get. I give no specific instructions on how they should write up their solution — nothing more than the usual “show all your work in order to receive credit.” I want to see what raw stuff I get on this first submission. We’ll worry about quality control soon enough.
I’m familiar with what I can expect with the first harvest of solution write-ups. One-fourth of the papers are pleasantly stellar, one-third show candid efforts (especially the ones with parents’ writings on them), another third make me get up and stick my head in the fridge to find a cold-and-alcoholic beverage, and the rest of the papers remind me that some of my 6th graders are still working on finessing the opening of their combination locks. The other right, sweetheart. There you go.
Years ago I taught a writing elective. I was at the beach — at the Oregon coast — because that’s where you should read and grade all writing papers. I forgot my red pen. I only had a yellow highlighter. The highlighter transformed my grading. I no longer cared so much about the writing mechanics — fuck spelling and punctuation and syntax. You got voice in your writing, kid. Your heart was wide open in this third paragraph. How did you know the rain smelled differently depending on what part of Portland you were in?
I highlighted sentences and words that spoke to me. I highlighted a brave sentence. I highlighted the weak ones too. The highlighter allowed me to interact with the kids’ writings differently. I didn’t add to or cross out anything they’d written. The highlighter didn’t judge the same way my red pen was judging.
And that’s the history of using the highlighter for me. But back to math. I have over 100 students and to write feedback for their bi-weekly PoW write-ups is all too time consuming. The different colored highlighters come to my rescue.
I’m going to continue using my binary scoring system because it worked well last year. I look through all the papers, separating them into two piles: papers that got it (full 1o points) and papers that fell short (1 point). These kids will get another week to revise their work and re-submit.
I use my yellow highlighter — just swipe it somewhere on their paper — to show that I’m having trouble understanding their work or that their work is lacking.
I use the pink highlighter to show that the answer is not clear, not specified, is partially or entirely missing.
I use another color (like green or blue) if the papers warrant another something-something that I need to address. I didn’t need to with this week’s PoW submissions.
If necessary, I will write on their papers directly. But I don’t have to do too many of these because kids’ mistakes, more often than not, are similar to one another.
When I pass the papers back, I tell students what each colored highlight means and what they need to do to revise their work, including coming in to get help from me. It’s a helluvalot faster than what I used to do.
Guess that’s it. Feels good to write in this space again.