How individual feedback can help students fare well in school exams

Last Updated: Fri, May 18, 2018 15:03 hrs
School children

When fourth grader Maya got sick, her parents took her to the doctor. The doctor checked her and recommended a blood test. Maya’s parents took her to a diagnostic center and got the test done. They took the report and showed it to the doctor. The doctor looked at the detailed report and prescribed medicine for a week. Maya took the medicine for a week and recovered from her illness.

This is what is expected of a doctor; she tests, diagnoses, and gives individualized remediation. We also understand that this process both identifies and addresses the problem, thereby restoring the child to the state of health.The same process should, in principle, be used in schools as well, shouldn’t it? Let’s see what happens in a school.

At the end of a term, Maya and her two friends, Rishita and Mehar, wrote their exams in their respective schools. All three scored 50% in Maths. Their respective teachers evaluated their performance and gave feedback in different ways. Rishita was asked to study harder to get better marks. Mehar's teacher asked him to focus on solving more Maths problems as he had scored less in Maths. Maya’s teacher said,“You struggled with 2-digit subtraction with carry over.”, and then gave her remedial worksheets to build 2-digit subtraction concept.

The advice given to Rishita was too broad and something she already knewand thus added no value. The feedback to Mehar provided a solution, but it did not tell him what needs to be done and consequently fell short of creating an impact. However, the feedback provided to Mayawas specific and meaningful, and along with individualized practice sheets, had the power to impact her learning.

Sadly, what happens with Rishita is the typical scene in most schools. Students are given generic advice like ‘try harder’ or vague motivation like ‘can do better.’ This leaves the child clueless and more often confused.

Learning, as most schoolchildren currently experience it, is still under the shadow of the Industrial Agechildren are not treated as individuals but as parts on an assembly line. The teacher broadcasts information; the students learn by rote copying and then get labeled as weak or strong based on a test. There is an urgent need for learning that is customized for each child. This may sound like a far-fetched idea. But we have all experienced this ‘customized’ approach while shopping on Amazon or pursuing a course on Udemy or even ordering a dosa when we perhaps wanted it to have less oil or be crispier.

The question we need to ask is this: can we customize learning for the child in the class? Of course, yes. As per the National Curriculum Framework 2005, “A teacher would collect, analyze and interpret student performance on various measures of the assessment to come to an understanding of the extent and nature of student's learning in different domains.” The framework also mentions that impactful learning takes place when the teacher, after understanding student's performance, provides timely feedback to them along with corrective action.

In effect, this means that for any customization to be done, data is the starting point. In a school, the data comes from the internal assessments that it conducts during each academic year. Each question could be designed to capture not only the concept learned but also the skills used to answer it at a granular level. Bloom’s taxonomy of Remembering, Understanding, Applying and Higher Order Thinking Skills is an effective tool in this regard.

The next step would be to capture the granular data from the question paper during correction. The data will help segregate students into groups based on the nature of mistakes. Based on mapping the granular performance of the students, it should be possible to develop practice sheets at a group or individual level. Even if teachers lack the institutional resources to create such individualised practice material, a basic analysis of the data will reveal corrective actions that can be taken by the teachers in his/her regular class.

In conclusion, the classroom transaction should not be limited to a ‘teach and test’ loop. This doesn’t benefit anyone in the system, much less the student. The current education system needs to add feedback, remediation, and individualization to the loop in the way Maya’s doctor and teacher did. Then and only then, learning will be deep and durable.

 Venkata Vinay is Academic Lead, IMAX Program, Bengaluru, a company that partners with schools for internal exams and individualised feedback to students.



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