Building Relationships and Improving Assessment with IFS (Individual Feedback Sessions)

Assessment comes in many forms. We spend a great deal of time deciding what to assess and how to assess it. Perhaps we need to shift our focus to why.  Why do we assess? I believe it’s to gain a better understanding of a student, to meet them where they are at, and determine, together, how they can move forward in their learning journey.

At a recent Learning Round, I observed a teacher use Individual Feedback Sessions (IFS) as a way to formatively assess students. It reminded me of something I had learned years ago – that the Latin root word of assess is “assidere” which means “to sit beside.” And that’s exactly what she did. She sat beside the student, and focused her full attention on him. They looked at samples of his work, reflected on his progress, tried out different ideas, and set goals together. She asked the student how he was feeling about the progress he had made so far and what he thought some potential challenges might be. It was inspiring to see the metacognition of this fourth grade student as he self-reflected and took ownership of his learning.

How does an IFS work?

Create a schedule so that you can meet with each student weekly

Sessions can be done in pairs to save time, and students can collaborate and learn fromimages (8) each other

In each session, review student work, reflect, revise, and set a goal for the next session

Why does IFS work?

It’s an authentic and beneficial way to give feedback

Students view the teacher as a partner in learning, and know that their thinking is valued

Students feel respected and trusted to take ownership of their learning

Students feel safe to risks and share ideas, without the fear of their answers being wrong

It helps students see the big picture and understand what they are working toward


Not only can this type of assessment lead to increased student learning and motivation, it also builds relationships between teacher and student. The teacher I observed didn’t rush into questions about the work, she took the time to ask about his winter break, and listened as the student shared adventures from a recent skiing trip. During an IFS, students know they have their teacher’s full attention, and they can talk about anything, not just the learning. It’s an opportunity to focus on the whole child, and to assess more than just their knowledge.

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