Archive for May, 2015

flickr photo by kmadrid shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

flickr photo by kmadrid shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

So, I’ve been thinking about the feedback I give students, particularly the feedback I give on papers. I teach one section of 9th grade English, and the jump in the expectations for analytical paper writing is one of the big shifts for students entering high school.

When I taught 5th grade, I found that students got overwhelmed by the comments that I scrawled wrote carefully on the sides of their papers. There were too many words and the particulars were not something they could usually interpret on their own. If we had individual conferences, students would get more out of my comments, but again it was generally too much information whether text or talk. So, I started just narrowing it down to really 2 notations (other than spelling and run-on type stuff).

First, was the asterisk. Since a big issue in 5th grade writing is not having enough detail about something, I resorted to just putting in an asterisk at any point that I thought needed more. I didn’t go into detail about what was needed, just more. While that may seem vague, it ended up being quite reasonable. It was like a big “keep going” sign.

Second was the highlighted or underlined sentence. The highlight indicated that the particular sentence needed attention, probably it was awkward in some way. I used to try to go into a lot of detail about the particular way it was awkward, but maybe be I was no better in my ability to be clear, because all those words didn’t help. The simple direction to do something different here was clearer. This became the “try it again” sign.

What this gave me was more time to spend actually talking to kids who needed particular assistance, because I didn’t have a lot of students asking for clarification about the comments I did give. What it gave my students was independence.

Now, back to 9th grade. I foolishly thought that 9th grade writing would be a lot different from 5th grade writing. And, in terms of the vocabulary students use and the works they are analyzing it is. However, I see a lot of my old foes–points almost made and awkward sentences. Yet, I think that if I were to apply my old 2 comment strategy, it would not be sophisticated enough. What to do?

Since my students share their drafts with me on google docs, I can leave them lots of comments that are always legible. This takes me a reasonable amount of time, and then I see the kids just resolve, resolve, resolve (which for those non-google docs users is like checking off that comment).

Then, there are the comments that just take too many words to write out. But, when I meet with students, besides the fact that I then have to find time for all those meetings, it’s hard for them to remember all that is said. I decided to give Kaizena another try. Kaizena is a tool that enables audio comments on google docs. I decided for the most part to give the quick grammar or punctuation comment with text on the side and then the more global comments (by paragraph) using the audio. I thought it worked for me, for sure. (I may have gotten a little too casual with a few of the last comments on the last drafts. Room for improvement there.)

When I asked the students what they thought, I heard the following:

  • I had to listen to the comment more than once and think about it. (This was said as a criticism).
  • It takes too long to listen rather than just reading it. I have to slow down. (Again, this was a problem.)
  • I liked it.

I explained what I saw with the resolve, resolve, resolve. I saw some sheepish grins when I said that. I also was very frank in my response to “it’s not quick.” I explained that spending time thinking is fine by me. If you are having trouble understanding, that’s not my goal, but “I had to think”, I don’t see that as a drawback, call me crazy.

The results in terms of final drafts were good. I’ll certainly continue using Kaizena. I will try to improve the quality of my comments and, I will be adding a required reply step, partially thanks to some great ideas from @Allison_Winston. Students will need a substantive text or audio reply to each of my bigger comments before beginning to edit. More on that soon.

What do others do to make sure their comments are useful and used?