Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Thousands of hours with a green felt tip pen. . .

I read the articles for this week, and though I found them all thought-provoking, the culminating effect of the readings was for me a feeling of discouragement. I know that I have spent thousands of hours reading and responding to student writing, and it seems that my efforts have been somewhat futile. (Not that the essays' conclusions were really surprising to me. A lot of students I've known have admitted to me that they don't really read teacher comments; they are mostly interested in the grade.) I don't think that means that I can give up the practice of written feedback, but hopefully I can be more deliberate with my efforts in the future?

I know I am guilty of "sugaring the pill," as the Hylands put it. In an effort to be positive about students' writing -- and thus help motivate them, I have been guilty of "mitigating my feedback," resulting in "confusion and misunderstanding" when my students don't understand exactly how to revise their essays. I wonder what would happen if I took a new approach, writing only the "negative" comments and suggestions on drafts, and writing only the positive comments on final copies? If my students know to expect this, they would view the negative comments as a form of help, and they would look forward to the positive comments on the final.

The Dohrer essay reminded me of something that I knew but don't always practice: "Research indicates that when teachers make remarks on papers and return those papers to students while offering them no opportunity to revise, the remarks have little effect on subsequent papers." I know that the energy and time I expend in giving my students copious amounts of written feedback is best used on drafts of papers rather than final copies.

Yet one challenge I face is that it's so hard to get my 8th grade students to really invest in their drafts -- when they know there is no grade coming. And I don't like spending my time reading and responding to their writing when I know that they haven't really invested much time and thought yet. How do I get students to invest in the drafts -- so that I can give them feedback to help them improve? When there is a grade involved, of course it's a different story for most Edina students!

I don't know of a good solution for this. This March, I surprised students on the day that their Anne Frank essays were due by telling them that I was collecting the essays not as final copies, but as drafts. I told them that I would return the essays with written feedback, and the revised essays would be a week later. Most students were happy with the news, and while reading the drafts, I felt very encouraged by the quality of the writing. I can't speak to the final copies yet, since I'm collecting them tomorrow! Of course I can't regularly surprise/deceive my students like this -- word would spread! But I also can't bear spending hours of precious time on half-hearted attempts.

1 comment:

  1. Tess...don't you think that your idea of a yearlong writing assignment (writing/revising the same piece several times over the course of the year) could help your students actually USE the written feedback you provide? I think it's such a great idea. And I think as students invest more time into one piece, they will start viewing your feedback as something very different than a grade. I hope you try it next year. I'd like to hear how it goes :)