Marking – it doesn’t stand out as the most opportune moment to support a student’s emotional and mental wellbeing and improve self esteem. But don’t let that deter you. Adults who work with young people in a variety of roles never seem to quite fathom the impact every word (written or spoken) has on a child. However children take in the words of trusted, respected adults words loud and clear, even if the opposite seems true at times. With this in mind marking is a perfect opportunity to reassure, reinforce and remind students just how much potential they truly have.
1. Regular, low stakes feedback is better than one-off, summative testing
Checking student’s learning needn’t be a high pressure task. Low level, short assessed tasks can avoid the crashing disappointment of missing a target and not being able to correct it for weeks. This alternative method also reduces time spent marking and better informs planning – its good practice!
2. Explain to students that assessment help you to help them!
Remind students that tests aren’t punitive – they help us to find out what we need to help students with. If there is a development gap, we can fix it. If we don’t know, we can’t help. This can reinforce self esteem through acknowledging they can improve upon performance and reduce test anxiety.
3. Emphasise Strengths
Focus on building on strengths more than improving weaknesses (but these must be mentioned). Make sure the students know what they are good at – self esteem depends on this. Students are constantly reminded what they need to do better – make sure they what they did well too.
4. Acknowledge effort
Give an effort grade – students who work hard may not always achieve their target. Make sure you acknowledge their hard work.
5. Encourage self reflection
Where a student has underperformed and you feel they may not have given it 100% direct them to reflect upon how much they put into it. If they feel they gave 100% then they should be proud of their achievements – they did their best. If they reflect and think otherwise, encourage them to imagine what is possible if they give all of themselves to the task, there is so much potential to explore! These combined approaches should improve self esteem.
Students might not read written comments – speak to your students and tell the what they did well and what can be improved! This can reduce marking and has been documented as working well in this.
7. Try not to label your students as “off target” during the learning process
This may be damaging as they can carry many labels with them from different subjects which can cumulatively cause harm. “Working towards the target” is much better as the students should feel they are heading in the right direction. Use comment only feedback that does not associate work with summative grades.
8. Reinforce to your students that education is a journey and there are ups and downs
A target missed today can and will be corrected and sometimes we don’t always perform as expected – we are human. Black and white thinking (on/off target) is a thought distortion that can create a lot of anxiety in a student, discourage this where possible as it will be a barrier to self esteem.
9. Recognise when a student has met or exceed expectations then challenge accordingly
Education is about continuous improvement, but sometimes students produce an excellent piece of work that doesn’t require next steps. When a student produces a piece of work like this, challenge them in a different direction thereby acknowledging they did an excellent job and are moving on to a new challenge.
10. Recognise small achievements along the way. Let them…”Level Up!”
For many students, the journey of education does not given enough feedback for their needs. The idea of performance is too vague a concept and student’s only feel as good as their last test. Many students play games for hours that provide them with mini “wins” along the way. Breaking skills up and confirming achievement “badges” in these areas on completion of tasks can help boost self-esteem and allow students to recreate the flow and iterative feedback that gaming can provide. Those with more artistic skills may want to create actual badges but a simple tick sheet could work fine. Humorous badge/award names may help engagement and using License formats for more practical subjects have proven popular. Students who miss out on a licence should be able to, through next steps, quickly get the box ticked.
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