Commenting on Comments: Getting Students to Read and Understand Feedback

Something I often hear from other teachers is that students never read or internalize the feedback they receive from their teachers. And frequently, from these same teachers, I hear them suggest, with exasperation and frustration, that their feedback is a waste of their time.

In my first month or so of teaching, I also noticed that there were students who weren’t reading my feedback, and it became even more obvious because they would make the same mistakes (that I commented on) in future drafts or future papers. I found myself also getting frustrated, so I started to think about different ways I could ensure that students were actually reflecting on the feedback I was providing, and I came to the conclusion that I should have students write about their feedback.

As a do now or an exit ticket, I have students first read through all of the feedback I provided them, and then, I ask students to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the most important strength of your paper?
  2. What is an area in which you need to improve?
  3. What is something you would change if you were to rewrite this paper? (Grammar and/or spelling don’t count.)
  4. What is something you think you need more support on in order to be more successful in your next paper?

I don’t always have students answer these questions, and/or I sometimes don’t have students answer all of these questions, but I’ve found that when students do this, they internalize and appreciate the feedback I provide more. Having students write about the feedback, in their own words, helps them better understand it. And if you have students keep track of their answers to these questions, they can look at any trends they see and take appropriate action. For example, if they’re always writing down that their thesis needs improvement, they’ll see they need to take more time on that step when writing and/or seek further instruction.

Something I haven’t yet tried, but may offer this year is to allow students to record themselves answering these questions using Loom. (To hear more about Loom and its place in the classroom, check out this post). This would allow students to answer the questions in a format that they find most comfortable and beneficial.

Having students reflect and write (or video record) about the feedback they are given puts the responsibility on them, and it gets them moving towards more metacognition within their own learning and writing, which, I would argue, is the ultimate goal of education.

Advertisements

Loom: Video Feedback

A few years ago, I attended the Conference on College Composition and Communication, and one of the strategies presented was video feedback for student writing. I slipped this idea into my pocket with the intention of using it one day, unsure of when or how.

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 4.15.40 PM

When you use Loom, this will pop up before you record. I have selected the options I used for the video linked below.

The first school where I worked did all writing, and, therefore, feedback, off-line. However, I’m now working at a 1:1 school, where I’ve had the opportunity to experiment with more digital tools, one of which is Loom.

What is Loom?

Loom is a screencasting software available for free through Chrome extension. Loom provides several options, including recording yourself and your screen with your voice, recording just the screen with your voice, or either option without your voice. Once recorded, Loom creates a link that can easily be sent to others.

To see Loom being used, click this link. (If you can’t access the hyperlink, the url is at the bottom of this post.)

Why use Loom in the classroom?

This year, I used Loom to provide students with video feedback on their papers. Because students have never received feedback in this way, I gave students the option to receive this feedback, and many students took advantage of it. I chose to record my screen and voice only; as I recorded, I went through each student’s paper and provided verbal feedback as I went through it.

Pros:

  • Giving video/verbal feedback allows students to hear more of my personality and better understand the tone of my suggestions. The encouragement is clearer through my voice than it may be through written feedback.
  • (*This is also a con.) I ended up giving both alphabetic and video feedback. As I went through the paper the first time, I would write comments to remind myself what I had thought. This meant students who learned best through either alphabetic or aural learning were getting both types at once to bridge gaps students may have.
  • I found myself giving more thorough feedback to students because I was able to clarify things verbally that can be difficult to convey through alphabetic text alone.
  • It feels more conversational; I provide video/verbal feedback the same way I would during a conference, which emphasizes that feedback is always a conversation between myself and my students, something I want and expect them to respond to.

Cons:

  • You have to provide feedback somewhere very quiet. Unlike giving alphabetic feedback, video feedback can’t be done at a coffee shop or during a direct study, so the times and places I was able to do this were more limited.
  • It takes more time. Because I couldn’t just erase my feedback and start over as easily as I can when I type, I had to more carefully and thoughtfully plan what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it (for the whole paper) before I started recording.
  • (*This is also a pro.) I ended up giving both alphabetic and video feedback. As I went through the paper the first time, I would write comments to remind myself what I had thought. This obviously took more time.

Final Thoughts:

Will I use Loom again? Yes. Will I use it every time I give feedback on papers? Probably not. I think Loom would work well for feedback on a second or final draft, but I’m not sure I would use it for a first draft (simply because it takes so long, and there is generally a quicker turnaround between my students’ first and next drafts). I also think when I use it, I will combine it with another strategy that I’ll be blogging about in the future, in which students respond to my feedback, but more on this idea in a future post.

What do you think? Have you ever used a video feedback tool? Would you? Let me know in the comments below!

The model video: https://www.useloom.com/share/e305f8eb172e4b41ab8901acbf4281e4

Senior Letters: Saying Farewell and Good Luck

Thus far, I’ve had the pleasure of having seniors every year I’ve taught. And while, at times, this can be stressful and overwhelming, it’s also a grade I really love. There’s nothing more satisfying than sharing in their excitement and nerves for the possibilities of the next chapter in their life.

Perhaps the biggest “challenge” I face with teaching seniors is having to say goodbye to students whom I’ve built a strong connection with all year. So to send them off and ensure they know how special they are, I started a tradition where I write every senior a “letter” to say goodbye. Let me first say, this idea was completely stolen from my good friend and former colleague, Thessalea, who is both a wonderful teacher and human.

It may sound daunting to write every senior a letter, and, truth be told, it can be time consuming, but I’m also not writing long letter. Each student gets a few sentences to a (short) paragraph in which I reflect on happy memories we shared, hopes for their future, and finally, wishes of luck for what’s to come. This year, unlike last year, I also added a special touch to each student’s letter by handwriting their names at the top of their notes in (faux) calligraphy. That little touch, which students knew took time and care, was especially touching to students.

I’ve found that this simple gesture, this small token, makes a tremendous impact on students. It’s my final way of showing students just how important they are.

The Power of Student Reflection

When it comes to most things in life, I’m my biggest critic, and teaching is no different. There are rarely times when I look back on a lesson or a unit and I’m satisfied. I can always look back and find at least something that I would do differently, some way I feel I failed myself and my students. My self-deprecation is something I’m really working on, but, in some ways, it also fuels my teaching. Because I can always see ways in which I can improve as a teacher, I’m always seeking out new strategies and activities to better engage my students.

Because of my self-deprecation, there are times when I’m overcome with this sense of failure, a sense that I haven’t done enough for my students. But what amazes me is how students very rarely feel the same about my teaching.

Recently, I had a student run discussion in which students reflected on the research paper process we had just gone through (with snow days and breaks, this was an over-a-month-long process); I was expecting students to tear me apart in the same way I’d been doing to myself throughout the process. Before the discussion occurred, I ran through the list in my head of all the things I would do differently for next year, all the things that could have gone better, and I was ready for students to address that and beyond. But I was surprised and, dare I say it, proud to hear students’ reflections.

Nearly all of the students had positive things to say. Sure, there were a few “I wish I had more time on this specific part of the process,” but, in general, they reflected on how they felt really supported along the way and understood why and how the steps we took were necessary and helpful. And, trust me, I kept pushing them to criticize me. “Be honest. Totally honest. Saying something was negative about the process won’t impact your grade; I want to know!” I kept urging them, but the majority of students didn’t have anything negative to say, and the few critiques they had were either things I had already planned on changing for next year or things that reflected their dislike for the type of assignment in general.

As teachers, I think it’s common for us to focus on what we aren’t doing or what we aren’t doing as well as we would like, but my students reminded me that we are doing great work, we are helping our students, and we are making a big impact on them every day.

Restorative Circles: What They Are and Why You Should Use Them

This year, the high school where I work started a new initiative around restorative practices. The idea behind restorative practices is rather than using traditional, punitive discipline with students, we, instead, provide students with ways to learn and grow from their mistakes, meaning the purpose of the consequences students receive is personal growth and responsibility. I can understand why some people might, upon first glance, see this system as rewarding students for bad behavior or, at the very least, not holding them accountable when they break the rules, but I couldn’t disagree with this perspective more. When used correctly, I see restorative practices as not only holding them accountable for the rules, but ensuring that if they do slip up, they will learn from it and (hopefully) not repeat the same mistake again.

As part of the restorative practices initiative, teachers have been asked to run community building circles, or restorative circles, periodically in their classes. A restorative circle is a space in which all students are given the opportunity to speak in a safe, structured environment. These circles can be used simply to get to know each other and check in, or they can be used to resolve classroom issues.

To run a circle, you must first, as one might assume, place the students in a circle. If you’re able to, try to have just chairs and no desks; I think this encourages students to be more open and less guarded. You also want to ensure that there are no gaps in the circle, so you should remove any extra chairs/desks. Additionally, you will need to have a talking piece for the circle; this visually represents when students may speak and when they should be listening. I use a 3D printed octopus that my husband made me, but I’ve also used a pencil when I couldn’t find the octopus; I just wouldn’t use anything fragile.

IMG_0212

My talking piece: a 3D printed octopus

Below is a restorative circle I ran with all of my classes on the second day:

The rules or guidelines for the restorative circle can be found in section 4 of this outline. It’s important to go over these and ensure that students understand them before you continue with the circle.

I’ve used circles mainly as a tool for students to get to know each other and get more comfortable with each other. However, recently, when conflict arose in one of my classes, I had two of our school’s adjustment counselors run a circle around respect in the classroom. Because I had already run circles in the class, this restorative circle, around a more sensitive issue, ran smoothly, and students said they felt like they gained important insight from this circle. This circle also gave students who are quieter (and had felt disrespected by some students) the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences.

Whether using circles for building community, addressing conflict, or checking in, I’ve found restorative circles are incredibly beneficial for students, and I can’t recommend them enough!

TodaysMeet: An Online Discussion Board

I’m sure that many teachers have already spoken/written about the online platform, TodaysMeet; however, because I’ve finally had the chance to use it (twice), I wanted to share my thoughts on this digital medium and its uses in the classroom.

So what is TodaysMeet?

fullsizeoutput_1d88

Screenshot of a sample discussion board on TodaysMeet.

TodaysMeet is an online discussion board that enables people to create a “room” in which multiple people can have an online discussion. The person who creates the room is then able to determine how long it can be open, and, in addition, they can download a transcript of the conversation before it closes. (With the paid version a transcript can be created even after the room is closed, which might be useful for some teachers.)

I decided to use TodaysMeet for two different discussions in two different classes. The first class was having a discussion on an emotionally-charged topic, feminism, so I decided to make the discussion online in hopes that it would prevent some potential emotional outbursts and encourage quiet students to participate more. The second class is an incredibly quiet class, and I was hoping that an online discussion would encourage my especially quiet students to share their thoughts. While the first class was told they could only discuss online (despite us all being in class), the second class was allowed to discuss online and in-person.

To be frank, neither experience with TodaysMeet was ideal. The first class (a large class of 30) found it difficult to follow the discussion, and the second class had the same students discussing (online and in-person) rather than others joining in. I also found that, perhaps because students were looking at a screen and not each other, students became less aware of their body language. A rolling of the eyes, which might not have happened in a spoken discussion, happened more during the online discussion.

S what’s good and what’s not-so-great about TodaysMeet?

Pros:

  • A transcript is created of the conversation, which can be used as evidence of “speaking” and “listening” skills. Additionally, this transcript can be used as a way to look back and brainstorm strategies for improving student skills, both independently as a teacher and together with the class.
  • It allows teachers to see some of the struggles students may have digitally, so we can address what successful and appropriate online communication looks like with our students.
  • The creator of the room can delete comments. Although I only had to utilize this a few times, it can be an important tool to have if a student posts something offensive or inappropriate (or in the cases I experienced, something completely irrelevant and derailing).
  • For students who are hearing impaired, it can be easier to follow and partake in than a traditional, oral discussion.

Cons:

  • Students are limited to 140 characters, which makes citing the text difficult.
    • When students broke up their thoughts to fit the character-maximum, they were often cut off by other students, which led to a difficult-to-follow conversation.
  • The conversation lagged at times (perhaps because the school’s internet can be slow), and when the platform caught up, it sometimes seemed like things were out of ordered.
  • If you forget to download the transcript before you close the room, it’s gone forever (unless you pay for a subscription).
  • Because it’s all typed, and therefore all written language-based, it can be more challenging for ELL students.

Although my experiences weren’t ideal, I’m not giving up on the platform just yet. In the future, I may either do smaller groups for online discussions or have the outer circle of my fishbowl have an online discussion on TodaysMeet based on the inner circle’s spoken discussion. Additionally, I think online discussions, whether supplemental to in-person discussions or not, require some different rules and norms than the more traditional, verbal student-run discussions. Before my next discussion with TodaysMeet, I will definitely more thoroughly discuss digitally-focused discussion norms and rules with my students.

Revisiting my Teaching Manifesto in 2018

In lieu of making teaching resolutions for the new year, and following the lead of my good friend and colleague, Danah Hashem, I wanted to revisit the goals I made at the beginning of this teaching year in my Teaching Manifesto.

 My Teaching Manifesto: Revisited

My students

  • I will get to know each of my students on a personal level, enabling me to meet not only their academic needs but also their mental-emotional ones. Although I’ve gotten to know most of my students on a personal basis, there are still some whom I haven’t connected with as deeply as I’d like. The students with whom I’ve struggled to connect also happen to be students who likely need it the most, so it’s something I need to continue to work. My goal for this next quarter is to check in with students who are struggling before I need to remind them about makeup work.
  • I will go to school activities in order to see my students partaking in activities that make them feel proud. Because I’ve been struggling to keep up with all the work I have, I haven’t prioritized the social part of school as much as I should. I spent most of first and much of second quarter frantically trying to get through all of my grading, and that didn’t leave much time for other things. I’ve started to feel like I have a better balance between planning, grading, and personal-life, so hopefully I can improve on this for the next two quarters. 
  • I will be mindful that students have more than my class to worry about, and, therefore, I won’t ever give them busywork. This is something I think I’ve done a good job sticking to. However, something I now need to do is balance the amount of (non-busywork) work I give; because quarter two seemed to go by so quickly, students had a lot of assignments to do back to back. I’m hoping to provide more balance for them in the next few quarters. 
  • I will worry less about how many texts we get through and more about how deeply we get into each text. I still worry about this; however, my curriculum is not determined by this worry. Although we aren’t getting through as much as I might have hoped by this point, I truly believe my students are connecting deeply with what we have done thus far. 
  • I will have my students do various kinds of writing, frequently. Although students are doing some different kinds of writing, and doing it fairly frequently, I hope to increase the kinds of writing they’re doing in the next two quarters. 

My colleagues

  • I will ask questions and ask my colleagues for help. I’m fortunate to not only have an incredible mentor but also have colleagues who enjoy helping me. I’ve definitely been more apt to ask for help this year, and I think that is largely due to the incredible experience I have when I’ve requested support. I’m beyond grateful for my colleagues!
  • I will utilize my colleagues’ areas of expertise. As I mentioned earlier, planning has taken up a lot more time than I imagined. I’m fortunate to have colleagues who share their units with me, and this has made my planning more manageable, and it’s also allowed me to come at material in a way that I may not have originally thought to, which, pedagogically, has been invaluable. 
  • I will share areas in which I feel confident. I haven’t yet shared a ton of my own materials with colleagues. I’ve let my own insecurities (being the youngest and one of the least experienced in my department) prevent me from sharing a ton; however, my department is encouraging, and I’m hoping to be able to share some materials soon!

My personal life

  • I will prioritize time with my husband and dog. I haven’t done a good job with this. My time management hasn’t been ideal this year, which has led to more time planning and grading (or catching up on sleep) and less time with these two important beings. 
  • I will take my dog for a walk at least once a day (even when it’s cold, and I just want to cuddle under a pile of blankets). With wind chills of -20, I’ve completely failed with this. I’ve been a pretty rubbish dog mom recently. 
  • I will make time to see friends, and I’ll try not to spend that time just talking about work. Although I don’t do this as often as I probably should, I have tried to make time to do this, and we’ve mostly kept the work talk to a minimum…mostly. 
  • I will (try) to keep my home life organized throughout the week rather than having a massive organization/ cleaning day during the weekend. This is… well… time management again.

My self

  • I will make time for me at least once a month (whether it’s getting a manicure, a massage, or just reading by myself), and I’ll try not to feel guilty about it. I haven’t made this a priority, and I think it’s really taken a toll on me. 
  • I will prioritize my physical, emotional, and mental health, starting with being more physically active. Because I’ve been pushing myself too far, I’ve been exhausted, so any free time I have is usually spent sleeping or half asleep. I bought a Groupon for a gym, so that’s something, right?
  • I will forgive myself. When I, inevitably, fall short in one of these areas, I will forgive myself, and I’ll try not spend so much time beating myself up about it. I will understand that I’m only human, and I make mistakes, and I will try to learn from them. This is probably the hardest one, and it’s also probably the one I’ve done the worst with. I’m incredibly hard on myself, and I’ve definitely beat myself up more than I should this year. I can at least say that I’m trying to improve this, and since this goal is all about forgiving myself, I’m going to say trying is good enough.

Although I haven’t made as much progress towards my goals as I’d like, I’m hopeful that I can make vast improvements in the following quarters.