Feedback: Tour Guide for Growth

As a student, I would work for days to complete a writing assignment, hand it in, and predict the grade before I got it back two weeks later…and sure enough: B+. The comment at the end said, “Nice work.”

Thanks, I think.

So, the cycle continued–regardless of effort, my scores would float between B- and A-. Any red pen marks simply highlighted common writing errors. Fortunately, I cared enough to stop repeating the same mistakes. But what else would it take to earn the coveted A? I never knew. From a sophomore boy’s perspective: I was good, but not good enough.

And then I became the teacher–English, of all subjects.

I made a commitment to communicate not only grades, but paths for improvement. Through thousands of papers, many a red pen has sacrificed its life for the good of students for two decades. My classes used to stop for a moment of silence when another pen passed away–a worthy tribute. Now, thanks to Google Docs, there is not as much red pen, but the feedback continues.

My writers deserve to know the expectations up front. I am responsible for guiding their success. If I do not provide timely, specific suggestions and clear paths for improvement, I deserve to suffer through the large pile of disgusting final drafts. The greatest suggestion I can provide teachers who face similar piles is to front load. It took some time to figure out a better system, but now that I realize the greatest learning takes place during the writing process–not at the end. The Google Apps make this strategy much easier, as I have the students share the Doc as soon as they name it or I create and share through Classroom. Even with a handwritten copy, it is important to collect and return throughout the process. Either way, I monitor progress and add comments (to reinforce what works and what needs revision). The key is to not simply make the comment; there has to be a rationale. That is the lesson and where the most learning takes place. That is also what gets reiterated through peer feedback–a true validation of my teaching.

You do not have to take my word for it (but it would be cool if you did). Catlin Tucker, an expert in blended learning and one of my eduheroes in the Twittersphere, refers to a similar practice in An Epiphany. She came to the same realization about the importance of teacher feedback during the writing process (her blog is full of useful resources on all-things education).

If students understand the standards being assessed, the levels of proficiency and the descriptors of criteria on target-specific rubrics, all I have to do is guide the tour. Point out the highlights, share what deserves more attention, and suggest alternative routes for success.

Day 14: @TeachThought #reflectiveteacher 30 Day Blog Challenge

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