Reflections, first round

Harbor seal by skeeze via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Harbor seal by skeeze via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

The kids are varying in their first round of written reflections. Most are treading water, looking for where they need to go. Some are swimming a few strokes, pretty sure of the direction they are headed. Some feel the water closing in over their heads as they are overwhelmed with either how to evaluate themselves critically or understanding what it is I’m asking them to do.

Some appear to have simply left the beach.

Some backstory

I asked for and received permission to provide narrative feedback on assignments this year instead of grades, with the exception of grade reporting time at the end of each semester. At that time, I will conference with each student who will have had a chance to write a reflection regarding the assignments and how well they met the standards.

My process, figuring it out as I go

So here we are, working on the first set of reflections, which should address the assignments we’ve had so far and the standards each falls under. Times five different classes.

Early in the semester, we “unboxed” the standards. I gave them copies of ISTE and Oklahoma ELA standards and asked them, in small groups, to read and summarize the standards, rewriting into “I can” language.

In order to scaffold the reflection-writing process, I created grids in Google sheets with the standards across the top and the assignments down the side. Where an assignment and its appropriate standard intersect, I marked a bullet. In those cells, I asked the students to comment briefly about what they did on the assignment with regard to the standard, showing how close they came to meeting the standard with the tasks involved in the assignment. After taking these “notes” on the spreadsheet, they should have a pretty good idea of where they stand with each standard.

Next, I described writing reflections and showed an example. I posted reflection expectations around the room and answered questions, and soon the first few attempts were shared with me through Google folders. On a couple, I added comments asking them to describe the assignments more, or to be sure to say what the standard was or discuss their process. With the example I provided and the verbal and written comments, the narratives in my Introduction to Journalism classes began to look a bit more like I had hoped, and I was encouraged.

In the Reading for Fun and Digital Communications class, I soon realized I hadn’t been specific enough, so I re-addressed the process. This is where I saw the widest variation of how students were following the directions. Some were really trying on both the spreadsheet and the narrative, looking for the right direction. Some did one or the other, not quite understanding how they related, treading that water. Some were doing other work, and some appeared to be surfing other sites, hence, my “left the beach” comment.

Getting to the conferences and feedback in gradebook

In the reading class and the intro to journalism classes, I began the conferences though students weren’t as prepared as I’d have liked regarding their reflection narratives, and they went well. They went too long, but the conversations were valuable to the students and to me, I felt.

With a few conferences under my belt, I have a better understanding and now have an idea what to anticipate so that we can accomplish things a little more quickly.

I also posted some narrative feedback in our online gradebook. I’m getting better and reducing all I want to convey into a message the size of a tweet. I leave the option open for improving all but the very best work. It felt good to be able to comment on these very individual assignments, what was good, what could be made better, without having to compare them to each other to come up with a value in the form of a percentage, a set value of points or a letter – just feedback for the individual so he or she knows where the growth is and what else they can work on. And I did see growth.

Earlier in the week, I’d given out Post-it notes to students who needed to make corrections to an assignment or update to include a missing element or even catch up on a missing assignment all together. I pleasantly surprised to see, as I looked over the online work today, that most everything had been improved upon and updated since I looked last. Feedback works whether it’s verbal, comments on a Google Doc, hand-written on a Post-it note or recorded in a brief comment in the online gradebook.

Parent-teacher conferences are coming up next week, and I’d like to be able to show parents what we are doing and that there really is value in this more individualized method of assessment.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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