Sunday, March 21, 2010

Written feedback

In my ESL position, all the feedback I give is formative, since I am not in charge of anyone's grades. As I read and reflected on the articles assigned for this week, I tried to tie them in to what I do and found it difficult to make meaningful connections. But I can write about my own experience as a student and teacher.

I always read my teacher's comments eagerly, hoping for positive feedback. I would be disappointed if the only feedback was a letter grade, but knew that teachers were busy people. I don't remember writing conferences or individual help with drafting. The first time I was caught short by a prof was when I was writing independent paper on historiography in college. I was not using an acceptable style, but I had never been taught what that was! I learned a lot from that experience, though, mostly that I wasn't a know-it-all!

I really began teaching writing when I began teaching fifth grade at Creek Valley twenty years ago. It was in the late 80s and I had just read Donald Graves and Ken Koch, the poet, and was very much under their spell. During the 1990s, Creek Valley was an exemplary 'whole language' school with a strong emphasis on process writing. There was the Creek Valley Viewer, where students would publish their stories and poems once or twice a year. Each grade level had their own writing project from second grade memoirs to fifth grade fiction books. We did do writing conferences, using trained parents as well as teachers to give feedback to students. We helped students articulate the heart of their stories. Oh yes, we still taught five paragraph essays in fifth grade and state reports in fourth, but we also gave the students multiple opportunities to explore language and write on their own. We worked a lot on revision--seeing writing through new or different lenses--and a little on editing, so that the work was comprehensible to the reader. It was, indeed, keeping the audience in mind that encouraged decent spelling and punctuation, etc.

I still wrote comments on final drafts in those days before rubrics came to the fore. I suspect, however, they were more for the parent than for the child. The students had received feedback along the way.

1 comment:

  1. As you know, JoAnn, I also had problems making meaningful connections to the articles we had to read this week. I could kind of relate to the dialects article (mostly because I took a class on dialects a few years ago at Hamline, so I am interested in the issue). But as an ESL teacher, looking to improve the feedback I give my students, I really struggled with the reading materials...
    After having the "readings" settle for a few days, here are my thoughts and reflections on feedback as it applies to us, the ESL teachers.
    Surface feedback:
    - "Bad feedback" - surface, grammar-type corrections.
    - "Good feedback" - possibly also grammar corrections, but tailored to individual student, systematic rather than single case type of issues. Maybe explaining the rule, etc. or labeling mistakes.
    Content feedback:
    - "Bad feedback" - vague, unsystematic, inconsistent
    - "Good feedback" - focus student attention to particular issues with the piece of writing, also focusing student on a place where a problem occurs. Good feedback requires conferencing. I think that it is almost impossible for our students to decipher teacher feedback without a conference.
    Conclusion for myself: I need to develop a more "systematic system" to give feedback. Maybe a list of questions, or maybe a "checklist" of things I can think of before conferencing. For example, questions like: Are there any errors that are consistent? What aspects of this assignment the student can improve on? How?
    And, I am sure, many more other things...