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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Experiencing Feedback?

Following up on my last post on the writing portfolio, we are well underway with one essay down! We have successfully worked through our rhetorical analysis essay and reflected on our writing. I was really surprised at how much my reading of the essays was affected when I wasn't having to attach a grade to the paper. I was more free to really read what they were saying and provide feedback on both what they were doing well and what things they could improve on for a final paper. The next question is will they be more receptive to the feedback since they are not being penalized for the work? I'll have to come up with a way to gauge that!

Part of writing the paper for the portfolio was to complete a reflection on the essay writing process. The questions were:

Reflection Question
“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful. “ - Margaret J. Wheatley 

Write a reflection on the process of writing your Rhetorical Analysis Essay. Make sure you cover the following questions. You can elaborate on ideas that are not covered in the paper.

·         Do you feel you achieved the paper’s purpose? Provide some evidence to discuss how you did so.
·         What is a successful part of this process and paper for you? Explain why it was successful.
·         In editing this paper, what would you do differently?
·         What did you find you struggled with on writing this essay? Is there feedback you can give that you feel would help you to be more successful next time?
·         What preparation for this essay did you find helpful? What preparation did you find was not as helpful? 

As I read over their reflections, I saw that many of them were really examining the work they had done. They were taking time to think about thinking! It can be hard enough to get them to think, much less think and write, even harder to think and write and think about writing. Whew! In the feedback I asked what prep work was useful and what wasn't. I began to realize for every person who said one thing didn't help, someone else said it was the most helpful part of the process,  but that is what differentiating instruction is. While a chart helped organize some students' thoughts, reading the student sample papers helped create a clear idea of the assignment for others. Peer review in groups gave the feedback some students needed to continue writing their paper, while others felt the group time was the least valuable part of the process .Providing opportunities for each student to find something that works for them seemed to make the class in general feel confident about the assignment. I gained a lot of valuable feedback as to how I will approach this essay next year as well. 
Creating Opportunities for Feedback
What does feedback look like? It could be as simple as an exit ticket, survey, written response or discussion. Here are some things that I have tried so far this year:
Writing Survey
- Students took the survey on their own writing abilities before we began the portfolio. I could then use the data to guide what I would spend time on in class. Here is a small part of the analysis. I love ending up with visuals to show the class.  This survey helped to gain information at the beginning of class to see what we need to go back over during our discussion on day two.  

After I asked for general feedback of understanding, I asked students to respond with specific ideas that we needed to cover.  This was a great opportunity to have students respond to one another. 
Book Club Survey
Although this one isn't tied to the curriculum, students had been asking throughout the year what I was reading and what other students were reading. Responding to the feedback from students we are in the beginning stages of starting our first book club!  I sent out a survey and the students chose when to meet, what to call the club, and what our first book to read would be. 

What do we do with feedback?

Last year at the end of the year I remember the anxiety in the workrooms as teachers sent out a student survey to their classes to gain insight on their teaching. There was a mixture of emotions from various teachers from hurt feelings to anger to appreciation. I found myself focusing on the one or two negatives rather than all of the positives. It is really hard to not take something personal that is personal. There will always be a students to takes this anonymous survey as a golden opportunity to express a feeling about you that has nothing to do with you as a teacher. So how do we handle feedback in an appropriate way? We can never know what we are doing well until we hear from those who are a part of the process everyday. I don't have the answers, but I will share some things I took away from the experience. 

In asking for feedback you have to be ready to hear things that may not make you feel good. That idea of a perfect world where all of our students love us,our class, the work and can already see into the future where they will reap the benefits of their quest for unlikely. You can't ask your husband " seriously, does this dress make me look fat?" unless you can handle the honest truth (which I can not so I don't ask!). We have to take the egotism out of the equation...and it is SO HARD! Here are some things I have to remind myself:
- Focus on the OVERALL feedback. You will always have extremes either way. If all but one person felt an assignment to be worthwhile and meaningful - let that resonate with you.
- Keep the goal in mind. If the goal is to gain insight into what is working and what isn't, keep that in mind when reading the feedback. Don't get caught up on things that are not relevant to your purpose. 
- Really think about how you word the questions. If you want to focus on an activity, make sure you word the questions specifically. Ask for follow up questions that ask for why? or how? or a specific example. This makes the students have to think about what they are saying and support what they are saying with an example. Sometimes we word questions so that students are confused as to how to answer. You may, without realizing it, generate negative responses. 
- Do something with the feedback! If students respond to a survey give them some way of knowing you have read the information and you are taking what they say into consideration as you move forward. 
- Do not punish someone for their responses. If someone says that "you never really explain anything" don't respond the next day by giving them a mountain of notes and homework. It defeats the purpose and you won't get anything out of them in the future. 
-Have a discussion about why you are giving them the survey and what you are doing the information. If they have a better understanding of the "why" then they can better give you what you are looking for. 
- Always and Never statements. I try and speak with my students about making these kind of statements and how they are generally not true. I learned early on in creating a positive environment at home that "thems fightn' words!" They put people on the defensive. 

When we as people feel our voice matters and we have the ability to impact our environment we feel important and connected. That's how we stay engaged. When we are important to the community we begin to interact in the community. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What mark will I leave on my students' writing?

(all quotes from Jeff Anderson)

I went to the ACTE conference this past Saturday and found myself reeling with ideas about teaching writing. This is always such a struggle- how do you teach someone to write? I have my own about what I can and can not do-  I can teach structure and form, I can give resources to expand vocabulary, I can even help students to properly insert quotations with commentary. However, I can't teach voice. They have to find their voice. How do they find it? Through practice and exposure. The best thing they can do is READ! See writing modeled. See writers taking risks.

"Imitation leads to Innovation."

"By exposing students we make them aware of things without realizing it."  

The question remains how do I help to encourage students as writers? During the keynote speech by Jeff Anderson, the "Write Guy", I began tweeting things he said that really stuck out to me. I am included the quotes in this blog post. Two of those I shared with my students today concerning their writing experience.

  "Create more opportunities for students to have a positive encounter with   writing."  

I started my class with that question today "give me an example of a positive writing experience." The students were excited to share about writing that they have had published, poetry contests they have won, recognition they gained from having their writing used as a "good" sample in class. What I noticed is that majority of these experiences occurred to students during elementary and middle school. I shared my own history of having writing be for me, the one area that I always received positive feedback. Poetry contests (I still remember every word of the poem), reading my essay in front of my AP class in high school (which was really shocking to my classmates since I wasn't the front row, valedictorian seeking student) and college fiction writing classes that made me feel empowered. These things remain vivid memories to myself and my students.

When I asked students to share a negative experience with writing they cited primarily high school experiences. Now, I do understand that there are some justifiable reasons for this. Not until high school are they asked to create writing that critically analyzes a work. The stakes are higher and they are no longer writing for creative purposes. But how do you juggle both?

In addition to the conversation I am having asked students to fill out a personal writing survey  Hopefully it will start our process of self evaluation and reflection and give us some data to direct what we need to focus on in class.

"We are a first draft society. Push students to reread what they have written."

I could take on a million different ideas here - but I have taken on an ambitious project of a portfolio for second semester. What is our focus? REFLECTION and EXPOSURE.

We will be taking more time to not only write the essays, but really focus on the reflection. I want to make a deliberate effort to conference with my students on what they are doing well. Also, by giving them this cover page I am holding myself accountable to give them very outlined directions for each essay, take time to look over sample essays and model writing together, and finally spend time looking back and analyzing the work. The hope is with four essays to look back over we can identify things we are doing well, and things to improve on. I hope this portfolio ends up being a good experience for all of us.

The thing I am really struggling with is what is my role? How do I effectively grade 400 essays over the next 4 months?

"Take out the guilt- grading everything students write makes you a bottleneck in the process"

My thought is that I read all the essays and give comments - mindful of giving a positive to each- and have them write a reflection for each essay. They will receive a grade for turning in the assignments on time.  At the end of the semester they will turn in the entire portfolio, but submit one essay for a final grade. I'm not sure yet if that will be doing them a disservice for gaining feedback in the form of a grade, or if it might alleviate some of the pressure and allow us to write and reflect without consequence?

"Give them the freedom to take risks."

What I find with teaching is that I need to also give myself the freedom to take risks. I rarely, even after 7 years of teaching the same thing, give the same assignment in the same way. And I feel a bit of comfort in the fact that I can say I practice what I preach and I am a reflective teacher. I am going to see how this works. If I feel like I am ending up with a product that shows their development as writers I have achieved my purpose. So cheers to taking risks!