Re: The Importance of Low-Stakes Student Feedback


Sometimes we read articles and want to high-five the internet for articulating exactly how we feel. A couple weeks ago, Katrina Schwartz wrote an article on the importance of low-stakes student feedback, or formative assessments. We love formative assessments because it creates a culture of learning, engagement, and responsibility in the classroom. “This type of low-stakes assessments,” the article says, “makes it easier for teachers and students to become partners in learning, giving students ownership over their success and asking them to take responsibility for improvement.”

Schwartz’s piece is based on a Global Education Conference presentation by Bernard Bull, assistant vice president of academics and education professor at Concordia University. Bull advocates for low-stakes feedback that has little to no weight on their final grade. This practice allows students, as well as teachers, to adjust their habits to improve performance. We believe this beats the traditional model of tallying up assessments to determine grade.

The issue with the status quo, Bull argues, is that it’s a disadvantage to students who don’t grasp the material right off the bat. Even if these students end up mastering the subject by the final, their low initial grades will bring down their average. With this system, educators may be inadvertently biasing the grades for the students with prior knowledge.

The move toward low-stakes feedback creates a “culture of learning” instead of a “culture of earning.” Bull wants to “reward students for genuinely desiring to learn something that will benefit them in their lives, not just earning a grade so they can get out of school,” and so do we. Gradeable was invented to help teachers give meaningful, timely feedback for every student to improve. Bull highlights a couple movements taking place in today’s education scene that support the culture of learning:

  • Standards-based method, which we’ve been talking about all month. It’s the idea that students are graded based on their mastery of predetermined standards, instead of a cumulative average of scores. This practice often goes hand-in-hand with the Common Core State Standards which have been adopted by the majority of states in the US. Students often get to revisit work to achieve a higher level of mastery, thus reinforcing the culture of learning.
  • Digital portfolios, or a collection of student work. Bull suggested that this practice works best if students analyze their own body of work to determine what artifact best demonstrates their mastery. This is yet another way for students to revisit their work and scrutinize what they’ve learned as well as their learning gaps.

Both of these movements are just two practical uses that Gradeable helps with. Again, we love low-stakes feedback because it engages students to take responsibility for their education and makes the teacher more of a coach than just a lecturer.  Once students believe that learning is an iterative process, it takes the pressure off scores and puts the emphasis on learning in a way that works for them.

Interested in using Gradeable for formative assessments? Wondering if Gradeable is right for your workflow? Get started with a free trial, or if you have specific questions, email me at!

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