I’ve always believed that assessment is at the heart of good teaching and learning. Students improve only by knowing what’s expected of them and by getting feedback about how to get there.
When I began teaching, my colleagues and I devoted huge amounts of time devising the perfect assessment program. We joked about our three-dimensional rubrics and sometimes-indecipherable coding system. Some students and parents got what we were trying to do, but others replied, “Can’t you just give us a grade already?”
They were right. Our assessment system was great, but often it took way too much time for students to get their work back.
And the main point of assessment is not to evaluate students’ skills and knowledge but rather to help students grow.
That’s why, the last several years, I’ve focused on getting my students’ work back fast. Especially on practice assignments, extensive comments take too much time. Students like reading personal notes from their teachers, but they prefer knowing whether they’re on track.
If assessment takes too long, students forget about the assignment, start thinking the teacher is unorganized and incompetent, and begin caring less about the class.
This summer, I’ve been reminded of the fast-is-better-than-deep rule. I’m a student in a library and information science class, and my professor has taken several weeks to return assignments. At one point, we were on Major Assignment #3 when she hadn’t yet graded Major Assignment #1. This was inexcusable, and I quickly lost interest in the course.
My point is not to bash my professor but rather to emphasize the importance of assessing student work quickly. If there is a large gap between when students turn in assignments and when they get them back, then students don’t know how they’re doing and how to improve.
Perhaps even more important, the notion of time gets messed up. The best classes, I believe, have one narrative. A group of students and a teacher engage themselves in a story of growth. Although the story isn’t always linear (there are always flashbacks and subplots), the teacher must preserve the master narrative. You can’t be in more than one place at one time.
Of course, fast assessment is very difficult, especially if you have more than 120 students. But unless it’s a culminating project, I’d rather spend two minutes per student on two assignments than four minutes per students on one. Even though scenarios take the same amount of time (eight hours), my students get an extra opportunity to practice and get better.