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How Conferencing for Assessment Benefits Students During Hybrid Learning

Imagine this: In art, each student is drawing a three-dimensional object they have photographed. They’re focusing on form and value. Four students are with their teacher, and the other four are working off-campus today.

In engineering, one student is building a snowboard, and another is building a weather station using sensors and a microcontroller. The four students working remotely that day are making computer-aided designs of their engineering projects or writing code for their microcontrollers.

In statistics, one student explores data regarding police brutality while another looks at differences in Covid-19 infection rates for different demographics. They’re all searching for statistically significant differences within their data. Outside of class, they watch videos to learn about the necessary statistical concepts and strategies for analyzing data in Excel.

In each classroom, the teachers are following best practices for hybrid learning: emphasizing student choice, allowing students flexibility in pacing, and designing work that requires less direct instruction from their teacher. When classes meet in person, there are fewer students in the room, allowing teachers to spend their time focusing on individual needs.

The hybrid learning model provides a wonderful opportunity to shift the focus from whole-group instruction to individual students. One-on-one conferencing guided by skills-based rubrics provides a valuable tool for assessing their work.

In the hybrid model, many teachers have found success in providing students with more voice and choice in their learning activities. However, with this increased flexibility, traditional methods of assessment fail to hold up. Gone are the days of taking points off for a wrong answer or writing a task-specific rubric.
Utilizing Skills-Based Rubrics

To assess the wide variety of projects that our students are exploring, skills-based rubrics play an integral role. Start by identifying the learning outcomes that the assignment is intended to address. Your content standards are a great place to begin. Focus on three or five. Then define the criteria for success within each of these categories. I personally like using a single-point rubric for this.

By focusing on the required skills rather than a checklist of items the students should include in their assignment, you allow the students to be creative while still demonstrating the desired learning.

Rubric in hand, you are now prepared to provide clear and concise feedback during a one-on-one conference. Formative-feedback conferences serve to clarify the rubric expectations and show the students what success looks like using their own work. Invite the student to sit with you and to bring their notebook of recently completed work with them. Pull out the rubric. Ask the student to show you examples within their work of mastery (or approaching mastery) for each criterion of the rubric. Point out places within their work where they could improve, and use the rubric to keep your feedback focused.

In the art class described above, teacher Olivia Wilmerding asks questions like, “Where in this sketch have you demonstrated a good spectrum of values?” and “Can you point out a shadow shape? How could you improve that shadow shape by using value rather than line?” This exact language is used in her rubric. These formative-feedback conferences give the students a clear picture of what the rubric criteria mean and provide clear direction for the skills they should work on before embarking on the summative project. The feedback is personalized to each individual student’s drawings and specific needs.

Conferences as Conduits to Greater Learning

Formative-feedback conferences can also be used to guide students toward deeper understanding and more polished projects by figuring out exactly where they are. In a formative conference in my statistics class I ask, “Can you show me how to make a histogram with this data?” or “Now that you have some summary statistics, what hypothesis test will you use to draw conclusions for statistical significance?” Using the rubric to guide this line of questioning allows me to gauge where the students are in their understanding of the statistical concepts and gives the students ideas for deepening their analysis of the data.

Conferences can also be used for summative assessment, in which the responsibility of demonstrating mastery of rubric criteria is shifted onto the student. In engineering, teacher Zeb Engberg uses a rubric where each criterion is an element of the design process. In summative conferences, he asks the students to demonstrate their final products and reflect upon the ways that each stage of the engineering-design process played a role in their progress.

One challenge of one-on-one conferencing is that it leaves the rest of the class to work on their own without teacher guidance. However, in a hybrid model, since work is designed to be accessible both in and out of class, the nature of the assignments is such that the students can make progress without their teacher overseeing each step of the process. While Olivia conferences with an art student, the rest of the class works on their individual drawings. While I conference with one of my statistics students, the rest of the students are exploring their own data.

Social distancing guidelines can also be a blessing in disguise. In this hybrid model, there are fewer students in the room at a time, reducing the potential for behavior issues that may occur while the teacher conferences with a single student.

Admittedly, conferencing is time-consuming, but there are so many wonderful benefits. Using a skills-based rubric opens the door for creativity. Showing examples to the students, using their own work, personalizes the feedback, makes their thinking visible, and clarifies the learning objectives. Most important, conferencing provides an opportunity to connect with each student in a really special way.

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