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“The Power of Feedback” Summary: Part One

24 Apr

ThePowerofFeedback-1I worry my middle name might be Sisyphus. Despite my best efforts, the inevitable piles of essays that are a part of my working life too often feel like boulders to move from here to there. I desperately want to see each essay as another rich opportunity, a chance to help a budding writer find her voice. At my best, I find this state of mind. Yet, the amount of time required to respond to student work always leaves me with one nagging question: “Is all of this really working?” Thankfully, my tendency to despair about question the effectiveness of my feedback can lead to fruitful reflection.

Lately I have explored how to ensure my time (and my students’ time) is spent most effectively. For the past two years, my fellow English teachers and I set a departmental goal of improving the efficacy of our feedback. This year a few of us tackled John Hattie’s and Helen Timperley’s “The Power of Feedback,” a very extensive review of educational research on what really works in regard to teacher feedback on student work. This 2007 white paper deals with big data, reviewing hundreds of studies sampling thousands (maybe millions?) of students. The paper is dense and technical and big…but it is also illuminating and practical and useful. If you have the time, the study is worth a read. Of course, you probably don’t and just want somebody to give a summary…so keep reading.

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#ELMLE2015 Sketchnoting

14 Mar

Workbook-400It’s been a month since I have posted something new. Know that I have been working away…but I have had plenty of shade tree time, too. It has been a busy but fulfilling winter in Germany.

In the past ten years, I’ve endured my share of light-starved, snowy Februaries. In both Boston and Frankfurt, winter days can feel as if we’re all just sitting inside of some enormous, frozen broom closet waiting for somebody to turn on the lights. A colleague of mine talks about the “ping pong ball sky,” as if we’re all just sitting inside of a ball trying to look out. It’s an apt image.

I fill these grey-white times by learning to do something creative. When I lived in Boston I took all kinds of continuing ed classes: boxing, rock-climbing, acting, singing, writing. This winter, my ambitions are much smaller, but I’ve been experimenting with sketchnoting. My wife bought me two books for Christmas, and we’ve both been practicing in the evenings while vegging out in front of Netflix. At this year’s ELMLE conference in Warsaw, I put my nascent skills to use.

I am not good at this by any means, but my teaching always improves when I embrace the rich learning that comes from doing something at which I truly suck. I am surprised by how much I enjoy taking notes in this format. I listen much more attentively, and the big ideas from each session become stickier. Not every session lent itself to this format, but here are my notes from the conference with a breakdown of the key points from relevant sessions:

My apologies to the presenters. None of you really look like any of my sketches…just chalk up your Quasimodolike effigies to my not-so-budding artistic skills.

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Writing Rubric Reboot: 6plus1

30 Apr

red penIn my second year of teaching, I made a grievous, but memorable, error. I was always the type of student who was motivated by tough love. My favorite teachers were the ones with the highest expectations, and a scribbled, gruff marginal note like, “You’re a better writer than this. Try again” was often enough to send me under the hood of the text. Of course, I am not every student. Wanting to motivate a student I knew could do much better, I returned her essay with this brief message scrawled across the top, “This is the worst essay I have ever read. Try again.”

Looking back, I don’t recognize the young teacher who would be so callous with a not-much-younger student. Of course, my comment only did harm. It gave my student no hope, no information about what to do next. The only saving grace about this regrettable action? I was allowing her to revise. That, and I learned to never do something like this again.

Thankfully, this student and I worked past this incident. I apologized; she forgave. A year later, she moved to another school, but during a return visit, she visited me and shared the 6plus1 Writing Traits rubric her new English teacher was using. Not surprisingly, it was helping her, and I instantly adopted the practice in my own classes.

Over the years, for whatever reason, I have drifted away from the 6plus1 terminology, but this trimester I decided to bring it back. The shift only required slight alterations to the scoring guides I already used:

Timed Essay Scoring Guide w/ 6+1

The Six Plus One traits have existed since the mid-80s, and these descriptors of good writing are an attempt to quantify what makes writing work. Using them—especially when they are used across grade levels and disciplines—can demystify writing feedback for students and help them recognize what they do well and target what they need to improve.

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