I preach to my students all the time that the whole writing process is a waste if they don’t read and react to feedback. They get the spiel every time I pass back an assignment; some of them even act on it.
But that’s not what this post is about. This time I’m putting the spotlight on me, and how I respond to the feedback I get. I’m not referring to actual feedback on my teaching (which is important to seek) but the feedback I get every time I assess student work – and how I use it to give just-in-time feedback.
One of the ways I “relaxed” over my break was to finish up the essays my IB students wrote. They had to write a 1200-1500 word essay on Macbeth, on a topic of their choice. It had to be narrow and focused on Shakespeare’s purpose and one technique he used to achieve that purpose. They chaffed at the “one technique” requirement, sure they couldn’t get enough detail for only one. I was sure they could. We’ve been working on idea development and focus since the semester changed, and it was time for them to show me their stuff.
For the most part, I was happy with what I saw. They have the basics down pat. Every essay was focused on a thesis; most were dealing with technique and not summarizing the plot. That was a big win.
However, I saw that a number of them were struggling to really flesh out their ideas and rather than digging deeply into the play, they just repeated themselves. Many wrote about how elements of the play support the belief in Divine Right of Kings. Some used pathetic fallacy as the technique; others used the clothing motif. Most gave a very surface brushing.
As I marked their work, I kept a notebook by my side to keep track of where my students need more instruction, and designed my lessons for next week based on what I found.
WORKING WITH FEEDBACK RIGHT AWAY:
1. I’ve asked two students who did really well to send me their papers electronically. I’m going to select each one’s best paragraph and put them together on a handout for students. They will work in pairs with pens and highlighters to identify the things that make each one a good piece of analytical writing.
2. I will write my own version of one of the repetitive paragraphs (so I don’t have to ID particular students). Students will work in pairs again, to identify repetitive areas and then to come up with ways to replace those sentences with better evidence from the play.
3. I’m going to write to illustrate the belief in the Divine Right of Kings at the top of a piece of chart paper and get students to take turns writing other ways to say this underneath (I’ll come up with some other repetitive phrases too–there were lots to choose from!).
My first thought when I started thinking about this was that I didn’t have time; we need to move on. However, I talked myself out of that. I’m giving them feedback that I want them to use now; if I race off to the next thing without giving them the opportunity to fix the things that need fixing, I’m not walking the walk. Let’s see how it goes.