Tag Archives: best_practice

“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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Audio Feedback on Student Writing

13 Dec

audioPart of my job as Year Head involves dolling out consequences for misbehavior. In this work, I’ve quickly learned that a phone call saves time. When I speak to parents directly, they can hear my tone of voice, ask questions, and express their concerns. We typically end the talk with a mutual understanding: we are in it together, both working toward the betterment of the student. When a phone call is not possible and I have to email, misunderstandings often crop up because tone is often misconstrued. None of this is a revelation; it is just common sense. I am a gobsmacked then (thank you, Brits, for that lovely expression) that until recently, I had not applied this same common sense to my feedback on student writing. I have written before about using macros to increase the precision, consistency, and detail of my written feedback, and I have shared other feedback time saving techniques. Of course, I always give students oral feedback in the formative stages of their writing. Yet, until this recent round of essays, I had never tried recording my formal feedback. Many of my colleagues have been using audio feedback to great success, so I thought I would give it a try, too. Research tells us that in order to be truly effective, students must perceive feedback as credible, accurate, supportive, and timely. A student, like a parent, needs to feel the teacher is on her side, working toward the same common goal. Giving summative feedback orally can help ensure that students feel this way, which can make all those hours and hours and hours and hours and hours we spend creating such feedback more effective.

THE PROCESS:

  • As I read the essay in Google Docs, I used the comment feature to leave brief reminders of what I wanted to say. I gave each reminder a number.

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Student Scribe Posts

30 Nov

carts1Go to any grocery store parking lot in Germany, and you will never…and I mean never…see any stray shopping carts rattling along in the wind or parked in the hedges. Every carriage is always tucked back in the rack, sometimes in color coded rows. In the United States I always put my cart back where it belonged, and I secretly enjoyed rounding up any strays I came across. Imposing order on this chaotic world, even in small doses, soothes my fastidious soul. My fellow countrymen, however, do not share my O.C.D. Most people leave carts wherever they damn well please.

Yet, the difference in national shopping cart parking habits does not reveal some great divide between American and German gentility. Germans do not return their carts out of an altruistic urge to avoid scratching their neighbors’ Audis. Instead, grocery stores in Germany simply engineer order into their systems. To get a cart, you have to unlock it from the rack with a coin. When you’re done, you can’t get your money back until you return the cart and secure it to its mates. It’s a simple system that works beautifully.

Medieval_writing_deskThe Student Scribe system works in much the same way; it’s a simple system, that once implemented, works with minimal effort on the teacher’s part. I first learned about the idea from Darren Kuropatwa, and I found his blog posts on student scribes very useful when setting up my scribe system for the first time.

On most days, one student takes communal notes and then posts these to a class wiki. Each post ends with the current student choosing the next scribe. Here are the directions I give my students regarding scribe posts:

 

 

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The Digital Farm

15 Nov

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 1.24.35 PMI grew up in the Midwest of the United States, so many people (not from the Midwest) assume I grew up on a farm. Far from it. We Neals are not the handiest or hardiest of folks. We didn’t fare well in the fields and quickly found white-collar work. I grew up around farmers, though, and I understand, though admittedly secondhand, the combination of intelligence, dedication, creativity, sacrifice, and hard work required of those in agriculture. I know I would be utter rubbish at it. Yet, the metaphor of a farm has helped me change the way I am teaching some of my English classes. My students and I have been using a digital farm concept to structure our study.

I first heard of the digital farm idea from Alan November. Quick plug: if you ever get the chance to attend November Learning’s Building Learning Communities Conference held each summer in Boston, go. My BLC experiences have been some of the most practical, rewarding, and provocative professional development I have ever had.

In my experiments with a digital farm, every student is given a chore (or two). Over the course of a predetermined time period (I find students need about two weeks to try out ideas and make multiple attempts), each student must make a meaningful contribution to everyone’s learning in his or her assigned role. Students may contribute in any way and at any time, too. If they are, for instance, designated a Feedback Provider they could still make a contribution as a Big Thinker. Also, depending on the size and personality of the class, I assign multiple students the same role. Students may work with partners or alone to fulfill their task. Students must also communicate with me in a timely fashion so that I can plan our lessons around their contributions.

At the end of each chore cycle, students complete a journal reflection and their work. I give one-to-one feedback, and then assign new chores for the next cycle.

Visit our Digital Farm wiki for a complete set of jobs. Some jobs are not assigned but come up in a rotating fashion. Discussion Leaders and Student Scribes work this way, and I will make a future post on the Student Scribes concept I learned from Darren Kuropatwa.

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Animoto Tips and Tricks

3 Nov

AnimotoAnimoto makes you look good…really good. Their simple interface makes creating professional quality slideshows soooooooo easy. If you don’t know about this site, go there now. You can get started making videos of up to 30 seconds in length without paying anything.

Even better, if you’re a teacher, the good folks at Animoto will give you a free, full-access educator’s account that gives you (and your students) six months of full service. When your six months are up, just contact them, and they will keep hooking you up with new codes and more service. Some of the themes and features require a professional account (another paid level), but the choices connected with free educator accounts are vast.

I was recently playing around on my phone and made this video in less than 30 minutes. The mobile app is quite elegant and user friendly. That short video inspired me to offer Animoto to all the grade 10 students at Frankfurt International School.

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Morgan Freeman, Memorization, and My Mutt

29 May

Vintage Simon SaysSometimes, I am a crazy person walking the street. I have a reactive dog, and recently I’ve been trying something new. When another dog is near us, and Finn is about to turn into a whirling dervish of spastic barking, I recite poetry from memory. This week I’ve memorized the prologue to Romeo & Juliet. Next up is “Ocean” by Mary Oliver.

I am sure my neighbors think I am a nutter (especially the German ones), but the dog seems to like this practice. She’s getting calmer every month, and I am archiving some wonderful verse. Memorizing poetry is an utterly “old school” act, but it has real value. I am asking my grade 7 students to memorize a poem of at least ten lines as one of the closing activities of the year.

I proposed the idea after discussing Nelson Mandela and his recitation of “Invictus” during his darkest hours of imprisonment. I was describing the poem to my students, and then I thought, why don’t I just look for a recitation online? It turns out, Morgan Freeman explains the power of memorized verse much more powerfully than I do:

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Setting Fire to NealEnglish

14 May

Flame_of_fireCompletely by accident, I just set fire to four years of work. My classroom YouTube account (NealEnglish) no longer exists. Vanishing with this account are all the tutorials and examples of student work I have collected. My old work email was deleted, and with the removal of that Gmail account, the YouTube account went with it.

This accident was completely my own fault. When switching jobs, I knew I needed to transfer necessary information, and I thought I had taken care of all the necessary steps. Yet, in the chaos and daily grind of a big move, I did not notice that my NealEnglish YouTube channel was linked to my work email…so poof.

I doubt I can do anything to recover this work. I’m exploring all options (so share an idea if you have one), but I am not hopeful. Of course, I am sick about the loss, but I am also trying to take a more enlightened, objective view.

I am happy that I had work to lose in the first place. For many years I have been methodical about carving out time from a busy schedule to write and curate and capture. I have developed work habits that help me share classroom work that really matters, so I now just need to put in the time, little by little, to rebuild.

If you navigate this blog, you are will hit many dead video links (for a while). I apologize. It will take me some time to restore the important videos, but I will. And, as I do this I will try to improve each one (and ensure I safely store them in such a way that I don’t lose such a massive amount of work again). I am going to treat this re-doing of work as a meditation of sorts, and hopefully something more meaningful will rise from the ashes.

Battle of the Gods: Introduction to Mythology Lesson

9 Feb

Deus-RaFor the past few weeks, my grade 6 students and I have been sailing the Nile in a felucca, learning about powerful Egyptian pharaohs by exploring monuments of the ancient world. I cannot take credit for these excellent lessons, though. They come from the History Alive! curriculum we have adopted this year, and I am over-the-moon impressed with these engaging resources.

I teach the same students in humanities and English, so I wanted to develop lessons on Egyptian mythology that connected to our humanities work. I came up with a simple idea that worked out beautifully.

The students spent a portion of two class periods researching a couple Egyptian gods, filled out a “playing card” for each god to synthesize their learning, and then mercilessly tried to destroy their classmates with their newfound knowledge, reducing their peers to whimpering sycophants in awe of an obviously superior, juicy brain.

O.K. I may be getting a tad melodramatic there.

But, the lesson proved to be very entertaining and effective, while putting the majority of the heavy mental lifting on the students. Also, I can easily adapt this lesson for Greek and Roman mythology, which we will begin in another week or so.

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Favorite Life Lessons for the Classroom

29 Jan

spring is a time for growthIn a way, this past week has been a prolific one. I’ve written over 25,000 words. But, these weren’t words for my own nourishment. I was finishing my feedback on a stack of persuasive essays about The Giver and writing end-of-semester comments. I was productive, but I struggled to make time for my own writing. I am hopping on a plane to Berlin this afternoon, attending the ELMLE 2014 conference, so I will make this a quick post.

As I have written about before, I start most weeks with a life lesson:

Little Things Add Up and Other Life Lessons

What Color Is Elmo? and Other Life Lessons

Below are some of the other life lessons I like to use in class. I hope you find something inspiring, and let me know if you have other such stories to share:

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Bitesize Rewrites: Paragraph Revision Assignment

19 Jan

ParagraphetzelThis year my English colleagues and I have set a common professional goal of improving the effectiveness of our feedback on written work. I am very excited by this collaboration, as I am always interested in exploring how we can make feedback more streamlined, collaborative, and manageable. Writing instructors spend so much time creating feedback, and I am always looking for ways to get better at the process (and reclaim some of my private life).

We are still exploring the research and I plan to blog much more extensively on this topic in future posts, but here are the broad ideas I took away from our most recent discussion of what research shows us about written feedback:

  • Students must be able to apply the feedback for it to have any meaning. In other words, writing feedback on an essay that the student will not revise is wasted time for everyone involved.

  • When students see their teachers as more CREDIBLE and LIKEABLE, they are more likely to value, trust, and, therefore, apply the feedback.

  • Positive comments are more effective than negative ones.

  • Written feedback can result in improvement, but feedback has no effect unless the student understands it and agrees with it.

These conversations are helping me reflect on the feedback I give. I am already crackling with ideas on how to improve my work, but I am also happy that the research clearly supports some of my current practices. In this post, I am sharing an idea that helps me address the final bullet point above.

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