Sunday, April 12, 2015

What I'm Reading

I did get some good reading done over break...
I finished these:

And I am currently reading this:

And my current edu-reads:

Friday, April 10, 2015


So, I committed to blogging every day in April. And here it is, April 10, and this is my first post! Oops. It is also the Friday of Spring Break, so you would think I had plenty of time to keep up with this challenge. I have to admit that part of the reason I haven't been bit by the blogging bug is that I've found the topics difficult to write about. I decided today that that can't be an excuse. I love my blog and I hate when I go so long without posting.

So today my post will probably feel like whining or ranting. I'll apologize in advance. But sometimes I think you just have to let the frustrations out to release the block. That is my hope anyway. This spring break I have slept. A lot. Close to 12 hours every night. I feel refreshed. I feel lazy. I brought a TON of work home to get done but I completed very little.

I am involved with two different projects at the state level here in Michigan. One of those is a formative assessment project called FAME. I love this project. I am so passionate about the formative assessment process and the promise it has to change classroom culture as well as the depth of learning of students. So I have some work around that project that I must have done by the end of June when we head to our retreat.

I am also working with a group called MAISA. Among the many projects they have going, one of their most popular is the creation of Reading and Writing Units that follow the workshop model and are aligned to CCSS. One downfall of the units was their lack of grammar instruction, but over the last year a group of teachers (part of the Mi ELA Network) has been creating grammar mini-lessons for the units. Each summer the group has an institute to help teachers in implementing these units and I will be presenting at that I have a presentation to complete for that!

And those units I mentioned? This school year was the first year that my district adopted those units, so I have been coaching and modeling for the 6th grade ELA teacher. And I love the units but they are taking much longer than I would think. This is happening at each grade level and I think it will get better as the years progress and students have the background of the previous years' units. Out of 8 units, I am on unit 5 with the 6th grade. I have to wrap that up next week. Then I have 7 weeks to complete 3 units! I'm not sure it can be done, but I was supposed to carve out time over break to plan how to accomplish that. But again, I am not sure it can be done. Because on top of those three units we have...TESTING...

Before I left the school for spring break I had to put together a schedule for three grade levels to complete the new online M-STEP test (which is, let me just say, RIDICULOUS! I tried the practice 6th grade ELA test and there were questions I did not know the answer to!) and the online NWEA MAP test. Which means there will be NO technology for regular instruction basically from now to the end of the year. And at least one full week of testing, probably more once you count up all the time. How can we teach around that with any continuity? How can we expect our middle school kids to take any of the testing we do seriously?

AND the other thing I brought home to work on over spring break? School improvement! Because on top of teaching and testing and planning and reflecting, we are supposed to analyze data from assessments and from student, parent, and staff surveys and conduct a Program Evaluation and write a new School Improvement Plan with an additional Technology Plan for next year.

But you know what I did work on over break? This:
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And it was worth it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Getting Students to USE Feedback

Many teachers spend hours offering written feedback to students. The purpose of that feedback is usually very well-meaning. It might be that we want to foster deeper thinking. Maybe we want to help them correct mistakes. Or we might be pointing out information that will be useful for them on the next assignment. But it often doesn't seem that students accept our feedback in the same vein we offered it...if they even bother to look at it.

I hate to break it to you, but you may be wasting your time leaving all that feedback. I know, you're thinking, "What? But I have to let them know what to improve on!" And that is true, but one key element of feedback is timing. First of all, if you are giving feedback on an assignment that also has a grade....sorry, that time you spent is down the drain. When students get back a summative assessment, they are only concerned about the grade. And why should they care about your feedback to make it better? After all, the opportunity to make it better is gone if it has a grade. Another issue of timing is how long after the work do the students receive feedback? If you wait too long, giving feedback is practically worthless.

Some teachers cause "feedback overload" in their students. (You like that? I just made it up! If it already exists somewhere, I wasn't plagarizing...I just read a lot!) If you ask your students to address every single thing that is wrong with their work, it can be overwhelming. You have learning targets for the assignment, right? Your feedback should only address the learning targets. The purpose of feedback is to move the learning forward so unless you tie your feedback to the learning target, they won't pay attention to it.

I like to make my students be metacognitive when they use my feedback. To do that, I use feedback cards. On these cards, I leave my feedback...often I have given them the same feedback on their writing. Below is an example of feedback I gave a student. Our learning target was "I can use revision strategies to improve my writing." When I write ...where indicated, that means I have actually marked in their rough draft where I want them to try the strategy.

Students have to use the strategy I suggested. We have a variety of ways for them to show revision. They can use sticky notes. They can cut their story up and reassemble it on aother sheet of paper. They can revise in their google drive. But then they have to fill out the other half of the feedback sheet. This is where the metacognition comes in, because they are not only using the strategy, but they are also explaining how they used it.

The example below shows that the student decided to revise the strategy that I had indicated she already did well with. Then she worked on the strategy I asked her to try. And she even asked a peer for a writing conference so he could tell her how well she used the revision strategy.

Because I get back their writings as well, it is easy to tell if they really did use the feedback I gave them. In the following example, you can see that the feedback instructed the student to think about the focus of his story and to remove unnecessary information. And you can see from his paper that he did just what he said.

Students get used to seeing the feedback cards. They know that the strategy I give them is going to move their learning along the continuum of the learning target and they are excited to learn more and to be able to show the progression of their learning. Seeing kids get excited about learning is really what teaching is all about. Here is one more example....just because I love sharing my kids' work!