Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Million Dollar Answer

When reading the Hyland article, I found myself taking lots of deep breathes and being grateful that I teach primary grades. Who knew that teacher written feedback on student writing could be taken and analyzed in so many ways??!
It was easy for me to relate to many of the experiences of the ESL teachers because, although my students are much younger than the case studies, they are also struggling to "break the code" of writing in the English language. Like Hyland discussed, I find myself struggling to find the best way to give feedback to my developing writers in a way that encourages their growth, is honest, and praises them for what they are trying to do. With most of my writing instruction rotating around Lucy Calkins Writer's Workshop, I find that I focus on giving the students positive feedback (more through discussion than writing) and trying to point out what they are doing as writers, while gently giving them ideas on what they can do make it even better. I found it very interesting when Hyland referenced a study that argued "Writing can be stolen from a writer by the teacher's comments. They suggest that if students follow directive feedback too closely, they may develop neither their cognitive skills nor their writing ailities, but merely rewrite texts to reflect their teachers concerns." Too often when I discuss a piece of writing with one of my second graders, their story turns into a copy of our discussion, rather than a reflection of that child's voice, thoughts and experience.
Another area that I connected with was the idea of finding "the balance between being a realist and being positive." When a child comes to me with a story that they have so proudly been working on for the past few days, wanting me to read it aloud to them, and I have no idea what it says, what am I supposed to do in that situation? Sure, I suggest they read it to me...but what do I do when they can't even read it and seem to have no idea what the entire story was about??! There they sit...many words and letters on a page and neither one of us has a clue what it is about. Sometimes, they can give you a main idea...but what is the best kind-of feedback to give there? The akward uncomfortable seconds pass as I try to think of something positive to say that will not turn them off to writing completely.
So now that we have been/are discussing all these different ways of assessing writing, I am anxious to get the million dollar answer...What is the best way to help writers, of all ages, grow in this craft, while fostering their self-esteem, teaching them what to do with criticism, appreciating who they are, and all the while making sure that I am giving them feedback that they can appreciate, understand and grow from?

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