As we move into writing June report cards and are beginning to think about assigning grades, it is helpful to differentiate between when are you giving feedback and when is the student receiving so much assistance that the grade may be effected as the student is not able to independently demonstrate achievement.

Providing effective feedback is not the same as “with assistance”. You do not need to worry that because a student was able to use your feedback to improve upon his or her work, the final mark should be lower because you provided assistance. Let’s look at some instances:

Math: A student is having troubles with fractions and has handed in work with a number of errors. Providing the correct answers will be useless. Telling the student that within the first 10 questions, 2 are incorrect and he needs to double check and find the errors by doing each problem using a different strategy is effective feedback and allows the student to learn. If during the instruction period you sit with the student individually or in a small group and guide him through understanding fractions, you are providing feedback. However, if the student, at the end of the instructional period, still requires your help to get the right answers, that is with assistance.

Project/Writing: Students are working on a project. They have a checklist/rubric/deconstruct available to them. Midway through you ask them to use the checklist to determine how well they think they are doing and hand it in. You look to see if you agree and indicate areas of agreement and disagreement. You make suggestions such as: your introduction is weak and needs a stronger lead; you haven’t supported your main argument well enough. The student is able to go back and fix these things independently—that is effective feedback. You may even work with the student in a small group to help the student develop the skill required. That is feedback and good teaching. If, however, the student requires you to sit with her to complete each stage of the project and to suggest how to write it, that is with assistance.

You get a driver’s license if you pass the driving test. No one asks if you practiced parallel parking one time or 55. However, if the driving instructor has to guide you through the parallel parking task, you probably won’t get your license. If the essay you write is brilliant, no one asks how many rewrites you did, or how many opinions you sought. The fastest skier gets the gold medal. No one judges how many practice runs she took or how many falls she made learning how to ski that fast.

Effective feedback will lead students towards greater independence in their abilities. The final grade should not be based on how much feedback or good teaching/support a student required during the instructional time. A student may sit with you in small group instruction every day for 2 weeks, but if at the end, he is able to demonstrate an understanding of the skill or concept independently, it does not matter how much help he got to get there. In fact, if your teaching can do that, you have achieved your goal of helping all students to reach their potential.