This past week my PLN has been discussing feedback on Voxer forcing me to rethink feedback in general, its effectiveness, and what it looks like in the classroom. My beliefs and practices concerning feedback have drastically changed in the last few years and will most likely continue to change as I grow. While there are multiple avenues for feedback, this post will focus on the writing conference, the tool that has changed my feedback most drastically in the past couple of years.
Feedback in my classroom can best be described as planned yet organic, big-picture but focused on specifics. My goal as a teacher is to have students take control of their learning and growth so feedback focuses on ownerships as well as growth. I have found conferring with students is the best way for me to offer feedback on writing. After years of “marking up essays” and watching them being either thrown away or put in a backpack to never be seen again, I knew this was not my best use of time in spite of this was how I had been given feedback in school and was what other educators surrounding me did.
When I moved from being a student editor to a writing teacher, I decided to grade writing quickly and offer one Glow and one Grow comment on each paper. Since AP papers are graded holistically, the transition was easy. The Glow and Grow comments are very specific and typically refer back to the Scoring Guide which my students are almost always given with the prompt. What happens next is where the magic occurs – the conference. I carve time out during class to meet in my private office (the hall) at least once every 4.5-week grading period to discuss writing. The conference is a two-way conversation and not a time where I tell the student how to “fix” their writing.
So how does a writing conference work and what does it look like? On days when students are reading or doing independent work, they come into the hall one at a time to confer about their writing. Students come to the conference with a couple of questions concerning past timed essays. We begin with their questions. Sometimes questions are centered on my Glow and Grow comments; other times they deal with ongoing writing struggles or even the mental work of writing. I try to be as specific as I can with answers to student questions and offer the student a strategy to try in revision. I always end the conferences by asking students what they need from me in order to keep instruction student driven and focused. While the conferences take longer at the beginning of the year, all of this typically happens in 5 minutes or less – specific, focused, and quick. Again, I am not fixing every issue in the paper but am helping them with one or two specific ways to improve writing.
My students are also asked to keep a record of essays on a data sheet. Not only does this give students a place to record grades and comments but also offers students a place to set a goal for future writing. Having students identify a specific goal offers an opportunity for both reflection and forward thinking. Data sheets are reviewed by students immediately before the next essay to refresh their memory on writing goals. AP students can also use this sheet to track progression of their essays as a whole or broken down by specific question types (poetry, prose, or open-ended). Each grading period (every 4.5 weeks) students use this sheet to write a reflective paragraph on the progress of their writing helping them take ownership of their learning. In an ideal world I would discuss their data sheets and what they learn from them during our writing conferences but usually only have time to discuss student writing. I am rethinking my conferences for next year to figure out how to incorporate more of these discussions.
However you choose to give feedback, keep in mind the following:
Feedback is essential for student learning and growth.
Feedback takes work.
Feedback is different from grading.
Feedback is ongoing.
Feedback looks different for different teachers, different classrooms, and different students: one size does not fit all.
Feedback is two way – giving and receiving.
Feedback doesn’t only come from the teacher.