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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Instinctive practice, with a lack of terminology

Fortunately or unfortunately, I do not have an education degree. I have an English degree but am alternatively certified as a teacher in Oklahoma. I felt really inadequate at first, even though I had teacher after teacher tell me that they don’t really teach you anything in those classes anyway – you learn it by doing it.

I learned it by doing it – and by reading about it. And by networking with other teachers everywhere. And by talking with my students and reflecting on what works and what doesn’t.

Educational lingo used to make me feel dumb, but I figured out I’m doing most of it, just not labeling it the same.

Collecting and analyzing data:

There was this one time, I stood before my class of intro to journalism students and had just gone over ten different types of feature stories. I had described each and given multiple examples and they could see these for reference in their textbook. They were to be brainstorming ideas – three of each type – AND NO ONE WAS WRITING ANYTHING DOWN. OK, a couple of the students had managed to write down an item or two, but by and large, these kids could not think of, or would not chance coming up with, ideas of their own for this feature story idea brainstorming task. Under 10 types, at three per, a real go-getter would have come up with close to 30 ideas. Some kids had four or five ideas; half had nothing at all. One or two had maybe a dozen.

We ran out of class time as I tried to encourage them to think of more ideas. I made it homework, but even the next day, no one had come up with anything more.

I mentally collected data: Kids cannot/will not create story ideas.

I mentally analyzed data: Kids are so used to bubbling scantrons, they do not know how to create ideas. Or, they are afraid of being shot down for having the “wrong” answer.

Possible solution: Provide more opportunities to practice creating. DO NOT shoot down ideas. Build confidence. Model, model, model.

This collecting and analyzing of data was not done with exams, scantrons, reports or meetings, but it was done.

Providing formative feedback:

OK, so in the beginning of my career, formative feedback was
1. verbal: “Yes! That’s right!” or “Close, it was …” or “Not the answer I was looking for, but you make a good point.” or “Tell me what you mean.”
2. Physical: pat on the back, high five, air knucks, thumbs up, pointy finger to lips in a “shhh..”, subtle shaking of the head in a “no”, standing beside a perpetrator so that my presence was felt.
3. Written: I loved writing notes in the margins! The first assignment for my English 1 freshmen was to tell me about themselves, and I could always find a connection to make note of in the margin. It wasn’t until later I realized most couldn’t read cursive. Ah, well. I did same with their formal paragraphs, essays, even tests, to explain what might have been misunderstood or ask a question of them that might clarify where they went wrong. In news and yearbook, this was the method we used for editing story drafts. After two or three editors had done the peer editing, I took a run through it, using proofreading marks and margin notes, noting things that worked well and ideas for improvement.

Then along came Google docs and our world was changed forever. For some reason, either because I am maturing as a teacher or because the commenting feature makes it easier to do so, I do not usually correct errors so much as point them out. Typing is so much easier than writing in margins, so I explain why it needs to be what it needs to be or why another option might be better. I get nearly as wordy there as I do in blog posts. I can be witty, too. But I can easily comment:
its=possessive; it’s=it is;
or another favorite: everyday=one word as adjective “my everyday shoes”; or every day= two words, as in “every single day”.
I’ve heard kids from across the room go, “Oooh, I get it.” I even go on lengthy descriptions about run-ons, trying to teach the concept in the comment feature.

Guidelines for peer feedback:

I had someone ask me in a chat this week about my guidelines for peer feedback. Guidelines? I’d never thought about it. The kids figure out how to give feedback to each other by how I model giving feedback. In publications classes, drafts must go through a few staffers/editors before I see it. And I tell them that I’m mainly there to keep us from getting sued. I want the editors to take on the responsibility of good editing. Of course, that has to be built, and some years are stronger than others. I start from scratch in my intro to journalism classes. In the intro classes, when they begin peer edits, the comments are inevitably “it’s good,” or “great job,” or “I like it.” It takes a little work from me, a little preaching about how anyone’s work – including mine – can be improved, and we’re all here to help each other get better.

As I provide feedback, “good lead”, “run-on”, “no first- or second-person”, “watch the editorializing – who’s opinion is this?” “read aloud – doesn’t make sense”, they begin to offer similar advice to each other. In Google docs, I can see the comments they’ve given each other, and when I see good edits, I praise the editor. When I see a story go through with a “good job” and it’s full of fragments and uncapitalized “i”, I look to see who commented and I ask her how she let that go. Doesn’t she want to help her classmate get better? Eventually, they catch on, and I hear the kids thanking each other. Thanking each other.

Once they are on yearbook or newspaper staff, I hear editors telling new staffers that they need more sources or asking where they got certain information. I see an editor leaning over the shoulder of someone laying out a page and explaining headline hierarchy and how he needs to align with the rails and my heart pitter-patters.

Guidelines for peer editing? Nah. I just model what I’d like them to be able to do. I praise when I hear it done right, and I talk to them privately if it’s not going right and offer suggestions for improvement.

Projected Outcomes:

Um, OK, again with the modeling. Even in the early days, I instinctively knew I needed to provide a model if I wanted students to produce something. I like models so I know what’s expected of me. Why wouldn’t they need the same? “This thing here? This is what I project you will come up with – or something similar …” If I want creativity, I show them several that are vastly different, so they know they have room to explore.

This year, though, experimenting with Standards Based Grading and then leaning toward Feedback Instead of Grading (known by some as TOG, or Throwing Out Grades), I developed what I’m calling Target Sheets. One thing that seems handy is for the kids to know, not only the product they are to come up with (feature story or seven photos that exemplify rules of composition), but the standards they are trying to meet or exceed. Whether I “grade” them or have them assess themselves, it’s fair to show them what we are all shooting for. So I developed these target sheets that describe the project, indicate essential questions the assignment should address and show the standards, with a 4-0 rubric, that the assignment will be assessed on. I provide the target sheet at the beginning of the assignment so kids can see what the requirements are. They are to hang on to that so they can refer to it throughout the project (doesn’t happen much yet), then turn it in with the finished product (rarely happened, and I found myself having to print additional copies). In some cases, we assessed some of the standard(s) together in a mini-conference. In some cases, due to time or the project, I assessed, but provided written feedback and the opportunity to rework the project. Some did; some didn’t. I do realize most didn’t because there was already a grade on it. I blame time constraints and the fact that I was under some pressure to put in so many grades within a certain time frame.

My main point here is that I worked to make the students aware of what the project outcome was as well as what their skill/standard outcome was. I believe that was an improvement over what I used to do.

Reflection:

I’ve always instinctively dwelt upon absolutely everything. Little did I know that we call this reflection, and that it’s good for you, like spinach. I’m always rethinking and reinventing wheels. Now I try to do it a bit more formally, and I encourage my students to reflect as well. In fact, I require it to the extent possible. In an effort to avoid the subjective and punitive nature of grading, but still meet most of the demands of my job, I had my publication students weekly 1. project outcomes (make goals on a daily log) 2. note on that log what they did daily. 3. reflect (did he do all he set out to do? what could have gone better? what was he proud of?) and assess (based on guidelines we set earlier in the year, what grade does she give herself for the week in productivity?).

Some really did reflect, and I was proud of what they discovered about themselves when they did that. They often set new goals or adjusted how they approached certain tasks. Some just jumped through the hoops and wrote something that might satisfy the teacher. I’m hoping they get it at some point. In my network of lead learners, I have resources for teaching reflecting that I will lean heavily upon for the coming year. It’s not instinctive for everyone. It must be taught, and I will spend more time teaching it, which will be worthwhile.

In my constant quest to get better at my job, I’ve lined up a good reading list for my summer, and I offer it to you:

Role Reversal by Mark Barnes

Assessment 3.0 by Mark Barnes

Digital Student Portfolios: A whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment by Matt Renwick

I also recommend a couple of Twitter Chats and a Facebook page:

#sunchat, Sundays at 8 a.m. CT

#TTOG, Teachers Throwing Out Grades, ongoing slow chat (also Facebook page)

#DI4all, Differentiated Instruction for all, next chat July 6, 7 p.m. CT

Follow these Tweeps:

@mssackstein

@markbarnes19

@differNtiated4u

@JMcCarthyEdS

What are some of the wheels you would like to reinvent? What are some conversations you would like to join or start? Feel free to start here.