Sunday, March 14, 2010

Effective Teacher Feedback?

After reading our two articles for March 25, I have a lot going through my mind about how we can provide effective feedback to our students. In the past, I would say I indirectly communicated that grammar was the most important piece of the writing process. While I included ideas, organization and other traits on the rubric, Conventions always had the highest number of skills I was looking for. In fact, I'm guessing some stories actually did have 100 surface corrections in black ink. I can only imagine how one of these students must've felt when he/she got a story back and saw surface corrections made all over the place. How is that for conveying the importance of grammar in writing to our students? It certainly wasn't what I intended.

This year I have gone to emphasizing three main convention pieces when I look at writing: proper end marks, proper capitalization and proper spelling. Believe me, it is a huge step for me to take everything else off this plate, because I have always thought I was responsible for fixing everything (complete sentences, commas, apostrophes, correct verb tense, and the list goes on). Even better, I'm not actually making the corrections anymore. Last year in our literacy group, Tess gave me some valuable advice. Don't make the corrections for them. Focus on one or two skills you've been teaching, and then write P (for period) or CL (for capital letter) in the margins when these items are missing. In this way the students take ownership for making their own corrections, yet they have a general idea where the mistakes lie. I also encourage parents not to fix spelling mistakes. Circle them, and the student can use the Franklin Speller (an awesome electronic tool we have in class) to fix the mistakes themselves. Even though I've spent the first paragraph writing about grammar, please understand. I certainly believe that developing ideas is the first step to creating a quality piece of writing. I have discovered that parents also need to be educated about the "importance" of grammar in writing. Usually, parents question me about why we aren't spending the majority of our time working on grammar skills when it comes to writing, and I have to explain why the content and the thinking behind it are the most important.

My main question today is this. How can I give comments that help my students grow as writers along the way and that continue to motivate them to want to write?
In pursuing the answer to this question this morning, I found a great video on Annenberg Media. It is called Providing Feedback on Student Writing. Even though it takes place in a few secondary classrooms, I think there is wonderful insight to be gained for teachers at all levels. In addition to addressing conferencing, peer conferencing, student self-assessment, portfolios, and high stakes testing, it also includes a round table discussion of the teachers who are doing the modeling in the video. They talk about what is difficult for them as teachers of writing and what they still haven't changed but want to. They talk about why it is best practice to model and practice these skills with their students, and they ask one another tough questions. Even though the video is at least an hour long, I learned a lot just by watching the first half hour. I also found another link called Arbiter. On this website, you can read student writing, assess it, and see how your peers assessed this same writing. It also encourages you to reflect on why you assessed the writing in the way you did. What did you pay the most attention to? Grammar? Ideas? Organization? And why did you make this your priority? Just a little food for thought as we continue to think about how we can provide quality feedback to our students...

1 comment:

  1. It could have been me who wrote your first paragraph! Sometimes I take a piece of writing and wonder: "Where do I begin?" Then I remind myself that developmentally not all students are in the same spot. Particularly the students I teach. A beginning/intermediate ELL will srtuggle with capitals and periods (among other things). With progression of oral language my students develop written language as well. However, written language is still behind their oral language by a few grade levels. Thus, every piece of writing is overwhelming for students and their teacher alike. My advantage is that I do not teach 150 students a year and I do get the time to spend with my students and their writing. I do find the time to conference and discuss writing with the students, as well as talk about their progress and common mistakes. I cannot begin to tell you how hard it is to NOT make every correction (especially grammar and spelling) and concentrate on the skills we are studying in class. I can imagine how discouraging it would be for me if every piece of writing I did was corrected to the point where I was not sure any longer that it was my writing... As a language learner myself I know first hand that it would be an extremely ineffective way to teach. So as a teacher I concentrate on specific things in my students' writing - organization, ideas, voice, style, grammar and conventions. But not everything all the time.