As an ELA teacher who has also authored two published books, I take providing feedback on student writing very seriously. I never liked writing until I started this blog and was able to write about whatever I wished. I remember all the red ink on my own papers, and I remember the lack of ink, as well, when a teacher simply put a letter grade at the top with a couple of words. ( From "Great job!" to "More thought needed.")
I remember when rubrics started becoming popular, and we had a heck of a time trying to make the words in each category become more and more objective. We even had some professional development time grading sample essays to help us become more objective. I remember on these days we'd give each sample a grade, write about one thing the student did well, and write one piece of feedback to help the student improve. Looking at other educators' ideas of feedback was very informative, and I found these days useful, even if they were exhausting.
I've since read a few books that have helped me to provide better and better feedback, even if I still have room to grow:
- The Feedback Fix: Dump the Past, Embrace the Future, and Lead the Way to Change by Joe Hirsch
- Feedback that Moves Writers Forward: How to Escape Correcting Mode to Transform Student Writing by Patricia M. McGee
- Creating a Culture of Feedback: Use Grading to Motivate Students to Move Forward by William M. Ferriter and Paul J. Cancellieri
- Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children's Learning by Peter H. Johnston
Since I am the curator of the Feedback in Lieu of Grades LiveBinder, I've also soaked up the articles and blog posts on this tab titled "How to Give Feedback." Today we use all kinds of colored ink, yet as soon as we attach a grade to the piece, all our work on the feedback is often ignored. This, too, has come into play in how feedback is received by students, so the most important feedback is provided BEFORE students turn in the work to us. Conferring one-on-one is my favorite way to do this.
When students turn in completed work, I use the following tips...
- Allow for multiple revisions. No, I cannot accept revisions the day before grades are due. I can, however, accept revisions one after another until I create a cut-off date. I've learned to provide time in class for students to revise, and I've learned to give them a time frame, as well. When they used to turn in a revised piece that was a month old only because they were worried about their grade, I would become so frustrated. I now say (in my recorded feedback), "Revise by (insert date here), or your revisions will be too far removed from when you wrote your original."
- Record your feedback when you can. I used to use the free version of Screen-Cast-O-Matic. This year I splurged and paid for Loom. (The decision is explained in this post.) Video or screencasted feedback helps my students feel as if I'm sitting right next to them. They can hear the inflection in my voice, hear my smiles and laughter and thinking, and hear when I'm confused. With using a picture-in-picture, they can see me, as well, and knowing this actually helps me keep the feedback more positive. I focus more on next steps, rather than what went wrong.
- Keep your feedback short and sweet. If using video feedback, definitely keep it under five minutes per child or piece of writing. If the writing is much longer, either read it ahead of time or only read the portion you can read on screen.
- If all students have longer pieces of writing, ask them ahead of time to highlight the section they'd like for you to look at. This way, you're either looking at their best work or the work they would like help with.
- First, share how proud you are of what they've done. Share the positives - where you can hear their voice come through, where they've used a technique practiced in class, the strong start they had (yes - even if you told the class exactly how to begin), a literary element they implemented... anything you see that shows a skill they've used.
- Share ONE thing students COULD improve upon, if they so desire. (See below for phrases that promote ownership.) This may be a grammar skill that they can work on throughout the piece. This may be giving more background information so readers can understand the evidence they used. This may be the introduction or the conclusion. It will be tempting to ask them to revise MANY aspects of their writing, but in my experience, they'll only edit one item anyway. Since you're providing opportunities for students to revise their writing, you and the student can tackle one issue at a time. The research I've read shows that students learn each skill better in this fashion.
- Have a system for letting students know you provided feedback and for students to let YOU know they've revised and are ready for more feedback.
- If you can, do NOT put the grade on the writing until all feedback and revisions have been completed. For my own notes, I jot down where I believe students are on the rubric(s) I've shared with them, but I try my hardest to not tell them until they decide to stop revising. (Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam's research titled "Inside the Black Box" persuaded me to update this practice, and my own observations in 2016 settled it once and for all for me.)
Ever since I started writing what I've wanted to write (instead of "back in the day" when teachers chose what I wrote), I've become more defensive about my writing. Much (real) writing is personal. Writers can get offended if someone tells them something looks "wrong" or could be said "in a different way." Since becoming a writer of my own blog, I've learned that I don't have to conform to anyone else's way of writing. It's MINE. If I had a teacher now who told me how to "fix" my writing, I may simply quit. I don't want to be the reason my students stop writing. I want to be the one to help them put strategies in place to improve.Therefore, I've learned how to approach what they could improve upon with certain phrases. For example, if a student's grammar is horrendous, I may say, "As a reader, I get distracted with your choice to not use our rules of grammar here, and it makes me either not understand what you're saying, or not want to continue reading. If you decided to capitalize names and spell words correctly, your message would come through clearer to your readers."
Phrases I use often that provide choice and ownership of their writing:
- "What would happen if you..." (ex: ...added more evidence here...)
- "You may want to think about..." (ex: ...moving this piece over here...)
- "You might want to consider..." (ex: ...getting rid of this sentence because it distracts or refutes...)
- "Your readers might appreciate..." (ex: ...if you elaborated more here...)
Sometimes, after all this, I am exhausted. I hit "stop recording" on a video with one particular tough piece of writing, and my smile falls. I sigh. I've figured out that my students respond to more positive growth statements, so I keep them up for the video, and then I copy the link to the video, paste it into the online grade book for them to watch, and move on to the next child. I don't linger on the myriad issues we need to address until it's time to teach in front of them once again. In essence, my "red pen" isn't flying all over the page - my voice reflects that of hope and encouragement.