Crimson marks bleed on my essay, as if my teacher was George R. R. Martin and this was the red wedding. The trivial letter etched on the front page somehow measured my self-worth . As I turned each page my positive writing was camouflage in the massacre of oozing red errors. Nothing was spared by the red pen.
Growing up this was what feedback was. The only time that I was given feedback on my writing, was the final draft. At this point the teacher, would mark all of the negative and positive in my paper. Their comments would be on the last page. It was always hard to read their comments when I felt like my wall of confidence was decimated. If it was not for my love of writing and literature, I wonder sometimes if I would even be in this profession.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have always been a good student and an avid writer, however it is not me that I am worried about. I worry about those who lost their love of writing, because of poor or negative feedback.
In my first semester of teaching, I felt like much of it was just trying to keep my head above water. As the tides of first semester receded, I was able to reflect on the positives and negatives of my teaching. The biggest thing that I wanted to change was how I gave feedback.
Feedback is the fuel for growth. If I want my students’ writing to blossom, they need the very best feedback.
My feedback last semester was not bad, but looking back it was not what my students needed to blossom. I had designated writing days in my class where I would check in on students and what they were writing about and I would have a conversation with them. I would not give written feedback until their rough draft.
The feedback that I provided on these drafts was a combination of a detailed rubric, recorded voice, and written comments. My rubrics were based on 6+1 traits of writing (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, presentation). My written feedback was placed on the rubric. I used the sandwich technique to critique (positive, negative, positive). If I saw a grammatical mistake I would only point it out three times, I would instruct students to correct the rest. I think all of these are great techniques, but I wanted to do Moore. 😉
The two biggest flaws in my system were student accountability and timing of feedback. Unbeknownst to me, how I decided to tackle feedback this semester goes along with the common bridal saying; something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
For my something old, I decided to keep how I give feedback on drafts. I will however change the amount given per draft. The rough draft will receive the highest amount of feedback, because I want my students to use this feedback to improve their writing. If the most feedback I give a student is on the final draft, what good does that do? *Casually breaks into song*
Late feedback huh what is it good for? Absolutely nothing…
For my something new, I am switching up how I teach grammar. Last semester I did mini full class lessons on general topics I saw needed improvement. This was good, but I knew I could do better. This semester I am differentiating what each individual student needs. I am trying out the website Quill. This website allows me to assign individual students grammar lessons and individual due dates. I am assigning their lessons based on grammatical errors I see in their writing. (This is not the only way that I will teach grammar, but it sure is a cool one so far)
This is an example of a couple different lessons that I can assign.
For my something borrowed, I imitated two different techniques that Missy Springsteen-Haupt uses at the middle school. The first technique is writer’s workshops. Last semester I gave students time to write, but it was not as guided as it could have been. This semester students I gave all of my clothespins and had them write their name on it. These are kept in the back of my classroom on long polka dot ribbon. Any ribbon would work, but the polka dot is fun. On days that we have a writer’s workshop they use these to indicate exactly what they are working on. I currently have two different writer’s workshops. The first one is just about the writing process (pre-writing, writing, editing, peer-editing, and teacher conferencing). The second one is about different topics or skills related to the paper we are working on. Thus far my students are responding wonderful to this style. It gives them freedom and accountability to work on what they need and want to work on.
The second technique I borrowed was letter feedback. Every time a student shows me their written work, they are required to write me a letter. These letters include what they thought they did well, what they thought they needed to work on, and what they wanted me to focus on. For the first letter I also had students include their sensitivity to feedback, their strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and their writing goals for this semester.
This is what one of my students wrote to me. It just assures me that good quality feedback is important.
By students writing me these letters, they are analyzing their own work and taking accountability. It helps me as a teacher, because I know what they need guidance on specifically. It also is a reminder that the paper in front of me is more than just words on a screen.
I respond to everyone’s letter with a letter of feedback. There is something non-conformational about reading a letter. Feedback no longer feels like an attack. It is a personal map of improvement.
For my something blue, I bought a blue mailbox. I know that this sounds cheesy, but I have this mailbox out if a student wants to share a letter or any of their work. It gives my students a place to share their writing.
It is early in the semester, but I am already seeing a change in my students. My students are allowing themselves to be vulnerable. They are taking creative risks and utilizing all of the therapeutic benefits writing has to offer.
My teacher heart is full.
Kristina Moore is an English Teacher Librarian at Clarion-Goldfield-Dows High School. Teacher by day, writer by night. She runs on coffee and YA novels.