A student and teacher huddle around a laptop computer. The student clicks an Internet tab, and her classroom website fills the monitor. She opens one page that contains a reading project and another with embedded media, including a narrated slide show.

Another click and she introduces her personal blog, which houses dozens of writing samples on an array of topics. “You asked me to review the video on reflection letters,” she explains to the attentive teacher. “So I went back to these three posts and added the vocabulary you said was missing.” The teacher smiles and says, “Okay, we need a report card grade. What should it be?”

This is how evaluation and reporting works in the student-centered classroom that I like to call a Results Only Learning Environment (ROLE). There is no room for numbers, percentages or letter grades in a ROLE. Instead, students collaborate with each other and with their teacher, in order to demonstrate mastery of various objectives contained in yearlong projects. Learning is a conversation built on a system of summary, explanation, redirection and resubmission — something all stakeholders in the classroom come to know simply as SE2R. If a report card is required, the student and teacher agree on what that final grade should be, based on how all feedback was handled throughout a grading period.

With the emergence and ubiquity of digital tools and mobile devices, the way we assess learning is changing. Collecting papers and workbook pages is no longer necessary, as almost any task can be completed on a website or mobile application, where the teacher can provide instant feedback. Teaching and learning in a cloud-based environment creates a powerful two-way conversation about what students understand and what they do not.

SE2R Creates Mastery Learning

Narrative feedback in a Results Only Learning Environment is based on SE2R:

  • Summarize
  • Explain
  • Redirect
  • Resubmit

Instead of judging work, based on arbitrary numbers, percentages or letter grades, teachers offer a one- or two-sentence statement that summarizes what the student accomplished in a task or project. A more detailed explanation follows, outlining concepts and skills mastered or omitted, based on the specific guidelines that were provided. The two Rs are the key to success in this kind of feedback, as redirection and resubmission are typically left out of more traditional classrooms. In a system built on lecture, practice, test and move on, the opportunity for mastery learning is lost on many students.

In a student-centered classroom, founded on collaboration, project-based learning and the use of the Web and mobile tools, learning becomes a constant, often virtual, conversation, and students are given the opportunity to learn from mistakes, revisit prior lessons and models and make changes to demonstrate mastery.

A Results-Only Learning Project

Seventh graders are researching a particular time in history. Students select a historical period of interest — the American Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Great Depression are just a few. Each student creates a fictional character and places him or her in that time period. The authors write weekly journal entries, chronicling life in the time period from the character’s point of view.

The young writers produce these detailed journals on their personal classroom websites, all contained in the teacher’s online learning management system. The students add pictures and videos to the journals, bringing their characters and time periods to life for peers, parents and any other interested readers; of course, their teacher will read all entries, evaluating their research and writing skills as the project grows. The old-school educator would most likely collect papers, assign an arbitrary point value to the project and place a subjective grade on the journals. In this old scenario, very little learning takes place. The teacher in the results-only classroom evaluates the young writers much differently.

SE2R Feedback in Action

As this immense project progresses, the teacher in this vibrant student-centered classroom provides brief, interactive lessons on myriad related skills and concepts. Students apply these lessons to their research and to their writing. The teacher moves quietly around the room, observing the authors unobtrusively, while occasionally kneeling next to individuals to ask a question or to comment on something he’s read. Later, he’ll write detailed feedback on each student’s Web page, following the SE2R model. This is what it looks like:

“Jerome, you wrote a three-paragraph journal entry from the point of view of Malcolm, a young black soldier, fighting in the Civil War. (Summarize)

“I like the way you’re developing the protagonist. In this entry, you place him in a specific battle, where he describes the scenery around him, using several adjectives and strong verbs. This demonstrates sound understanding of our mini lesson on improving diction. Several proper nouns are not capitalized, and this was another focus area for this week’s journal entries. These errors make me wonder if you don’t understand proper nouns or if you simply failed to proofread carefully. (Explain)

“While this is a well-written entry overall, I need you to return to it and correct any capitalization errors you see, so I know you understand this focus area. (Redirect)

“Please tell me when you’ve made the changes, so I can return to your Web page and re-evaluate this entry.” (Resubmit)

Revolutionizing Assessment

What makes SE2R dynamic is the immediate feedback the digital environment presents and the opportunity for the student to revisit prior learning and make changes to the work, without the punitive nature of traditional grades. Jerome receives no number, percentage or letter grade on his journal entry, which is one of approximately 30 that he’ll write over time in this yearlong project. Students like Jerome report a willingness to improve their work, because they like the feedback and working on the project digitally simplifies making changes, which leads to mastery of skills and concepts. Best of all, the SE2R model can be used on any activity or project and in any grade or subject.

Many teachers worldwide are embracing digital learning and narrative feedback, in lieu of traditional assessment. As the movement toward making learning a conversation, rather than a measurement, continues, students will become independent learners. In a world that is racing toward online classrooms, content curation and social learning, encouraging this kind of independence and self evaluation is not only important, it is a vital part of modern education.

Mark Barnes is a veteran teacher and author of Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom (ASCD, 2013) and The 5-Minute Teacher: How do I maximize time for learning my Classroom? (ASCD, 2013). He is the creator of the award-winning how-to video website for educators, www.learnitin5.com, and the popular education and variety blog, www.Brilliant-Insane.com. A recognized authority on student-centered practices and digital learning, Barnes works with teachers internationally, helping them build Results Only Learning Environments, driven by his SE2R system. His new book on using mobile devices and social media in the K-12 classroom is due from Corwin in September.