The adage “go slow to go fast” could never be more true than when it comes to learning. One of the most important skills that students need to learn is self-assessment. They need to be able to determine the quality of their work and their thinking using established criteria. In order for students to learning effectively, we need to slow them down, teach them how to assess, so that they can then move forward in their learning more quickly and efficiently.
In education, we have a variety of different forms of assessment:
- diagnostic, formative, summative – all of which are time based assessments (e.g. when the assessment happens in the learning cycle – beginning, middle, end)
- assessment for, as and of learning – all of which are based on the type of assessment (e.g. to move students forward, to teach students how to assess, and assessments that are evaluative in nature)
Assessments vary depending on what is being learned and how students are demonstrating their knowledge, but one of the most fundamental skills that any student needs to exit a course with is that they have a better understanding of how to assess their own work and the work of others.
Often, educators are so worried with covering the curriculum that the necessity for teaching this fundamental skill can be overlooked. And as a result, the teacher does the majority of assessing. The teacher must be enabling students to make the critical leap to analysis, evaluation and synthesis of their own work.
Karl Kapp, author of The Gamification of Learning & Instruction, identifies feedback as one of the most essential components of creating games (for both entertainment and education). A colleague of mine, Ellen Bigelow has been leading what I can only refer to as a Assessment and Evalaution renewal at my school this year, and from her comments I am making a connection between the importance of feedback in games and feedback in the classroom. Her passion for assessment has rekindled my own interest in this aspect of my pedagogy. What really strikes me about her pedagogy is her continual culture building of the importance for feedback. She has stated that at first, students are not to sure about the idea of feedback over marks (which I have realized myself earlier in my career), but as students see the importance of timely feedback, they seek it out because they know that the feedback is going to improve the overall quality of their work. She now relates stories of students clamouring over each other for her to fill out the feedback portions of her evaluations; they don’t care nearly as much for the levels but the comments that she provides. This simple little nugget of information will often get forgotten over time as the demands of the profession overwhelm the necessity for formalizing the feedback that students need! The connection that I see between good pedagogical feedback and gamification is that it is the feedback that brings the learner / player back. Without positive reinforcement, and the sense that there is a way to do better, or that progress is being made, learning and engagement stagnates.
With that said, Karl Kapp identifies 8 elements of feedback that are essential for game development. I see many of these as essential for the development of good assessment pedagogy. Below, the bulleted points are from Kapps book The Gamification of Learning & Instruction pp. 36-37, and the italicized text are my connections to the classroom.
- tactile: feedback can be felt by the player; it feels to be a natural part of the game
In the classroom, tactile feedback means that feedback ought to be a natural part of the learning process. It should not feel as some sort of add on or extra work that students need to do, or that the teacher is providing feedback for no reason. Feedback needs to have a purpose and it needs to resonate with the learner.
- inviting: feedback is something desirable
In the classroom, inviting feedback needs to engage the learner. Feedback is something that students need to want. Feedback is NOT a number or a grade, but a words that elevate student confidence while providing them with the means of being more successful.
- repeatable: feedback keeps coming to help overcome challenges or obstacles
Students make mistakes, just like all people. Students need to recognize that mistakes are where they learn the most. Mistakes are not to be penalized, but celebrated. Mistakes allow for feedback to come, to find nuance in what students are learning or doing to help them overcome the learning challenge at hand. When learning is based on re-occuring feedback, and not grades, students are able to learn better.
- coherent: feedback is congruent with what is happening as part of the game
Feedback in the classroom needs to be coherent. It needs to make sense in the context of the learning that is taking place. This means that feedback needs to be directly related to the overall learning expectations and goals for a particular learning project. Feedback that is not connected to learning objectives limits or in some cases can even inhibit the desired learning.
- continuous: the player does not need to wait for feedback
Many teachers may be afraid that continuous feedback means that feedback is instantaneous. As teachers, we are not algorithms that spit out data based on simple input. At the same time, feedback does need to be timely. That is to say, feedback that is received too far removed from the learning does not offer any opportunity for self-correction. Using different feedback models, such as self- and peer-assessments will help students get the feedback they need, but also their capacity for learning assessment.
- emergent: feedback is well-sequenced building the gamer’s capacity
The feedback that is provided needs to relate to Vygotzky’s principle of zone of proximal development. Feedback needs to identify where students are at, and how they can move themselves forward. When providing feedback, you need to be able to identify how to get them moving along a continuum. If the feedback you provide is pushing them “too far up the ladder”, then it is not appropriate. Providing effective feedback requires an understanding of how to scaffold the learning for the student.
- balanced: the player knows that she / he is receiving feedback, and can act on it; feedback does not overwhelm the player
Feedback can take many forms – oral, written, even the behaviour (e.g. tone, body language that accompanies the feedback). In some cases, oral feedback may not be considered as formal feedback by students because it is “just in passing”, or worse, students may not even recognize that they have received feedback. As a teacher it is necessary for students to receive a stream of feedback, both formally and informally, but not in such a way that the reception of feedback inhibits or detracts from what and how students are learning.
- fresh: feedback provides some surprises that inspires further engagement
Feedback needs to be engaging. It needs to be done in such a way that students want it and seek it out. It cannot be artificial. When providing feedback, make sure that you are able to demonstrate that you are connected to their learning (e.g. specific details, reference a comment that was made by the student, etc.). If you can demonstrate that you are connected to their learning, then they will be surprised, engaged and seek out your perspective more often!
As some one who is not a gamer, and has often undervalued video games, I am slowly gaining a much better appreciation for what video games can teach!