Student work is the best evidence that we have of student learning. The work that students produce shows us exactly what knowledge and skills they have developed.
We can use tests and grades to see how well our students are doing, but this only gives us part of the picture. Looking at student work as a whole in more detail gives teachers more useful information to support their students. It tells the story and explains how and why a student is learning.
What do we mean by student work?
Student work could mean a lot of things. We’re not just talking about essays and assignments. Student work could be:
- Notes that were taken into a test.
- Notes on scrap paper after a test.
- Study notes.
- Drawings and scribbles.
- Problems solved on the whiteboard.
- Models or physical products.
The common feature of student work is that you can take it away and analyse it. While students can also demonstrate their learning by explaining concepts to you verbally or asking probing questions, these are difficult to take away and use as detailed evidence.
What data can student work give a teacher?
Student work can of course give you a grade. You can get a certain percentage in a test, or get graded against a rubric.
Rubrics are fantastic as they pick apart how a piece of work was given a particular grade. You can go a bit deeper, though.
Student work can tell you what a student struggled with. If a student spent longer on a section, struggled with terminology, or missed a section entirely. You may also find some students use particular language to make themselves sound clever, which will also give you an important insight into how they think about their work and learning.
How can I analyse student work and gather evidence?
The most important tool that you have is annotations.
Take the piece of work that you are looking at and write notes on it. What do you notice? What surprised you? These simple notes can go a long way towards deepening your understanding of the student who created it.
You can also use more formal annotations. What are the good things about it? Where did they demonstrate this particular skill well? Where can they improve and how? All of these annotations are essential if you’re going to understand the work in detail.
Once you’ve analysed a few pieces of work, you can then start to get a larger picture. Whether you’re looking at several pieces of work from the same student or work from multiple students for the same task, your annotations should shed some light on the next steps for your class.
See more: 6 High Impact Teaching Strategies that take 30 Seconds or Less
How can I use student work to improve my teaching?
Looking at student work beyond just grades can help you target your teaching. You now know more than the fact that they didn’t understand the content – you might know more about how they tackled a problem, or even how they were feeling when they were working on the task.
Once you’ve seen a pattern, you can then act on it. What this looks like will depend on what you discovered, so you’ll need to be flexible in your teaching strategies. Being more analytical in how you look at student work is a fantastic way to really understand and support your students.