Student feedback and a thought about being an “expert” with lots to learn

I’ve been reluctant to write lately. I think this is partly due to being mid-masters degree and knowing what academic writing looks like and this blog being a weird hybrid between academic and “hey, friends, here’s what works for me…”

I write partly as a reminder to myself of what works, partly to share and seek feedback from my peers, and partly just because I think writing is fun. 

Here’s a feedback strategy I have started to use for student writing, which is the latest iteration of my many varied methods of providing students with feedback over the years. I find this one suits my needs right now and is accessible for my young learners.

Highlighter & sticky notes

I use bright sticky notes with a highlighter in a matching colour. The goal of this colour-coded feedback is for students to be able to identify the error and how to fix it. For the moment, I am trying to stick with two stars and a wish, both of which should be specific. The sticky note feedback is a new iteration of my old colour-code system where I just marked with five highlighters the types of errors students were making without providing much for written feedback.

Use pencil

I have a love affair with coloured pens and many teachers I know do. I always sort of figured I wanted my words to pop out for students so they would find them, but the more I reflect on the purpose of feedback, the more I think pencil makes sense. Students generally want work that looks tidy and reflects their best work. When parents come in and thumb through their notebooks the thing that stands out should be the student’s work NOT the teacher’s. Those with anxiety or a bit of perfectionist tendencies can remove it and have “perfect” final work. My fear was always that students would erase it… “But it won’t show parents what I told the kids…” What is the purpose of the feedback? It’s for students not for parents.

Iris and student process portfolios

As I mark, I keep student profiles open to make notes. This helps with providing students feedback, meeting with parents, and providing next steps on summative reporting like report cards. If the stickies do get lost I have a copy of the next steps for each student, although I don’t take the time to copy everything into the portfolio.

Mark it twice

I have been trying to provide students with this actionable feedback and then allowing them time to respond to it and improve their work. This often leads to a mini-lesson but sometimes the written feedback is enough.

I certainly don’t have it figured all the way out and I’m feeling a bit lax for not providing citations for my writing here… it’s just a personal reflection and nothing more.

Happy teaching, colleagues. I’d love to have your ideas for feedback,too!

How can I use technology in my classroom: Googledocs

These days I have been challenged to integrate technology in a classroom where I am not in charge of all of the technology. In the past, I have run a one-to-one classroom and found it easy to integrate technology all day long everyday. Now that I am sharing with the school and have to very deliberately book technology time for my students, it has changed the way we use it.

I have recently begun using GAFE with my students and with some other groups around the school. With my students in third grade, I found that it was easy to integrate by training up a few students and then using them as my “expert” students to get everyone going.

I find that Googledocs is one of the easiest places for my students to work, as they then have immediate access to their documents at home. In addition, I ask that my students share documents with me when they are ready to for teacher feedback. I can use the comment function in the student document and provide students with an immediate, just-in-time, mini-lesson related to their work and they are able to integrate the feedback immediately without having to copy out their entire document a second time.

This has been a good way to interact with students and I feel that it has improved the quality of their work.

 

Reading Buddies

The best way I ever heard professional learning from our peers put was “steal something good”. It’s always very intimidating to have our teaching peers in our classroom when we feel that we are being “evaluated”,  but sharing something successful always comes more easily. My reading buddy structure is something I stole from @TSpasoff when we worked together #Hawrylak in Saskatchewan. I was always the big buddies and she was always the little buddies.

Each student in my class has a magazine box ($1 per 2 boxes from the dollar store) and each student has a pencil case ($1 ea from the dollar store). I could use plastic ziploc bags, but the canvas pencil cases are more durable and I have used the boxes and pencil cases for the past 4 years for various purposes.

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I spent one 30 minute session with the Grade 4 students, teaching them the routine. I walked them through the routine and modeled with them. The Grade 4 teacher, M. Corbeil, came to my classroom and spent the half hour with my students. After this initial training session, the Big Buddies know how to be a “teacher” for the Little Buddies.

Inside the pencil cases, I have placed flash cards that are leveled for my students. Some begin with letters of the alphabet, some with sounds taken from the “Village des sons” kit, and some are working with the first 100 sight words for Grade 1 French Immersion in Alberta, which I took from @Shannon_Wiebe who has her blog here. (I initially met Shannon online via Twitter when I first moved to Alberta and was looking to make professional connections)

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Inside each box is a pencil case for sight words, two or three books from our home reading program, and a notebook. You might notice that I’m slightly obsessive about numbering my students. That way it’s easy to put any missing pieces back in the right place. When I was a grade 4 teacher, I even had my students number each of the words in their pocket just in case of words that were dropped on the floor.

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The Big Buddies are in charge of running students through their flashcards and know that I only want them to give students positive feedback. When a word is read correctly, the Big Buddy puts a check mark on it. If it is read incorrectly, the Big Buddy reads it, the Little Buddy repeats it, and it goes into another pile for more practice. Once a word has three check marks the Little Buddy has mastered it and it goes home. When the pile of flashcards gets low the Big Buddy lets me know and I refresh the pile with the next level up.

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After working through the flashcards, Big Buddies help their Little Buddies move on to reading the books. Little Buddies are responsible for reading and Big Buddies are responsible for “helping” to read by using reading strategies (sound it out, use the picture cues, what sounds do you recognize).

After reading, big buddies must provide feedback, both by “telling” their buddy and by “writing” their feedback so that I can see it. I have trained the Big Buddies to share two stars and a wish: two things their buddy did very well and one thing they might keep working on for next time. This feedback is valuable for me and my mentor teacher also had big buddies prepare a feedback sheet for parents at the end of the term. My hope is to have big buddies prepare this to share with one of our “Sharing my learning” sheets for parents, which my Grade 1 team sends home approximately once per month.

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Little Buddies are then asked to write and draw about the story that they read that week by using words that they know, that they find in the classroom or that they have in their pencil cases.

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When students are ready for a new book, I have them make the exchange during a quiet reading time – 10 minutes after lunch recess – students know their reading level and are responsible for making the exchange. The books come from the baskets I have organized for our home reading program. I have the good fortune to be teaching in a school and in a classroom with LOTS of leveled books in our reading program. As a part of our home reading, the Grade 1 students take home 3 books per week. There are generally lots of books left over in the classroom to put another 2 or 3 into each reading box.

During the 30 minute buddy period,  M. Corbeil and I circulate, ensuring that all students are on task and giving Big Buddies feedback. So far we have found this to be very successful and we have had very little trouble keeping students engaged. The Little Buddies get good one-on-one practice and Big Buddies get to review reading techniques, modeling and mentoring their Little Buddies.

In addition, I find that the reading boxes are easy for me to pull out if I find that I have a quiet few moments in the class; it’s easy to pull a student and their box and do an intensive 10 minutes of practice.