Feed me better Feedback.

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…

I digress.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Finding my ice cube

 

I am a proud dog mom. My furbaby Clark is 100lbs of fluff and slobber. In our home he has a room that he stays in when Sam and I are at work. He is still puppish, and if given the opportunity he loves to shred scarfs, papers, and the fur on my winter boots.

When Sam and I get home it is like jail break. My puppy gets super giddy, does a happy dance, and gets as far as he can away from that room.

If I were to put a treat in his room, Clark would stay in the living room..

If I were to put water in water in his bowl, Clark would stay in the living room.

You have probably heard the idiom, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. Standing just under 4 foot tall, but dog is practically a mini horse. As much as I fill his bowl, he is not going to drink water. He is not a dumb dog. He knows that if he gets put in the room that he is going to get stuck there.

However, if you were to grab an ice cube from the freezer and drop it in his bowl. No matter where Clark is, he comes running.

I can lead my dog to water, but he will not drink  on his own. He needs more than that. He needs ice cubes.

On several occasions I have heard this idiom compared to teaching. You can teach a student, but it is their job to learn. It is not the teacher’s.

This is the problem that I have been reflecting on lately.

Upon an unsuccessful senior presentation my principal said with a laugh, “I don’t blame the student, I blame the teacher”.

I blame the teacher.

Wow, did that cut deep.

I take being wrong like Mega Mind…

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When he was finished with the presentation, I sat down and asked him how he thought it went. He was hesitant. I think that he could read the faces of the people in the room.

Together we reviewed what he missed and what I observed. I instructed him that he would need to present again. Before he could do so, I airdropped the recording and asked him to see how he could improve. He will present later this week.

I thought that I gave the student everything he needed from day 1. I had all of the rubrics, papers, projects, and he came in several times to work on assignments.

I worked with him, but now reflecting… Did I find his ice cube?

There are gaps in my teaching. Lucky for me, I will not have another senior presentation until May. Until then, I will be searching for my students’ ice cube.

 

 

Marathon Teaching

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Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. As the bitter string of winter’s evanesce fills my lungs with a gentle reminder of how sweet air is. The rhythmic pounding of my feet electrifying my soul through my sole. My arms hidden under layers of warmth, swing back and forth propelling me forward.

…but in my mind I think

What did I sign up for?

Last March I decided to take the bold step of participating in Chicago’s Shamrock Shuffle 8K race. I say bold, because up until this point I had only done one other race in my life and it was a fun run 5K at my college.

I was no stranger to the idea of running. Living next to Lincoln Park, I would frequently run in the morning. I never measured my distance or timed my running. I moseyed along until I found something to consume. It varied between coffee, doughnuts, and french macaroons. The exertion justified the consumption. It is all about balance. So naturally when someone suggested I sign up for the race, I thought “yeah I could do that”.

A 8K, if anyone is wondering, is 5 miles. This does not sound like a lot, but when the only running you do is casual at best. It was rougher than expected. Despite my body telling me to quit, I was able to complete my first “real” race.

I use the word “I”, but I cannot take the credit solely. The day that I signed up for the race, I received a safety net of support. Throughout the race I was showered with encouragement and support. The night before the race I was showered with goodies and gear. The morning of the race fellow racers and volunteers were there to help in anyway possible. During the race strangers cheered me on and gave me high fives. After the race the lady next to me gave me her beer tickets and I think I hugged her.

 

For me, what got me through the race was the support. This probably makes runner’s cringe reading this, but there is a hype around races that propels racers to do their best. As of tomorrow, I will have finished my first semester teaching and it feels like a marathon. The biggest reason that I am crossing this finish line is, because of my support group. I have a fabulous mentor that knows when I need something even before I know I need something. I have an instructional coach that is wise and inspires my creativity. I have on Facebook several ICTE groups that I know if I ever need anything I will have responses all over Iowa. I may be a Facebook creep, but I read almost every post in the group. ICTE is full of so many inspiring people.

The race is over and I am so proud of myself.

Does this make me an expert teacher? Not by any means! I may have finished the race, but that was not the best I could do. I could improve my time, breathing, and pacing.

There are so, so many things that I want to change and improve on, and I never want to lose that feeling. It is that feeling that ignites passion.

The month of January is all about resolutions. Here are my teacher resolution to make me a better teacher.

Something I want to try: I want to include more writer’s workshops, creative writing, and student choice.

Something I want to improve: I want to improve my feedback. I want to have more conferences and letters.

Something I want to change: I want to stop working or policing free read time. I want to be able to model reading to my students.

Non-teaching: I want to get better at running. 😉