Tag Archives: students

The Magic of Feedback

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Image credit: http://wordzeal.com

I believe in magic.  I believe in the power of positive thinking, positive words, and positive feedback.   As a high school English teacher, this has served me well to build long-term relationships with my kids.  Maintaining positive interactions with my kids has been a truism of my days, in this way the cycle of validation and feedback for who they are – as I see them to be – must be present in my communications with them, always.

Teenagers are often filled with apathy, low self-esteem, regret, guilt, etc… – a cluster of negativity!  So, how can we expect them to be positive unless we bring the light to them, unless we hold up the mirror so they can see the possibilities?  You and I both know that sometimes you have to dig deep to find that “something special” in each kid, but it is our responsibility to seek it.  Fortunately, as English teachers we mine the motherlode inside the hearts and minds of our students through their writing and their creating – when we give them the opportunity.  It is there where we can pan for their gold and show it to them.

I want my kids to share the VALUE of feedback with me, with each other, in our classroom, in our community.  This value cannot be an abstract ideal, rather it is embodied and modelled through me and nourished through them.   I can proudly say that I see that the environment in my class between me and my students, and my students with each other, is filled with feedback that is motivating and validating!    See here how my students write feedback to each other on their blogs, and this is just a random example because the blogs are filled with such feedback:

Dear Hatif,
This is such an amazing post! After reading this piece, I am inspired and it has truly made me reflect upon my own life. The topic of this blog was great choice for you because just as Simran previously stated, you are a very positive and happy guy. The way you connected your personal life with your definition idea of happiness was very well executed throughout the piece. I really admire how you know how to use running and exercising as a way of escaping, which allows you to only achieve positive outcomes. Your voice as a writer is very powerful and inspiring. However, I would suggest just editing to fix up those small GUMP errors. Overall, excellent work!
Kiran  ( this was on Hatif’s Post “Your Choice”)

In this aspect of feedback, I can say that I have found great success through the coaching of commenting (see Etiquettes of Blog Comments).  Only, I didn’t realize until these past few weeks of reflection that I was ever very successful with feedback.  In fact, my Professional Growth and Development Plan for this year had FEEDBACK as a goal, one which I condemned that I had, once again, failed miserably!  But I was only considering “feedback” in terms of marking piles,  one-to-one conferencing, and data driven results, which I must still work at improving.

If I look at the criteria of feedback that I had set out for myself, I did fail in many regards.

The piles were some important piles for far too long to offer any kind of timely feedback for kids.  Sigh!  Ironically, blogs are never a problem, I actually LOVE marking them because they are the panned gold, the students’ voices are authentic and they are usually interesting to read; I feel motivated to get them up on the blog (all blogs are “approved” by me before they appear on the blog), so that the students can offer the feedback to each other through the comments.  As I “approve” them, I evaluate them and post feedback immediately to the students via Edmodo.  So, in this regard, I’m quick with feedback.  But it isn’t authentic enough.  It is far more authentic when the students give their feedback.  However, I do need to offer more narrative feedback to them, somehow, in comment writing or conferencing.

Yes, conferencing, another failed attempt.  After attending Penny Kittle’s sessions I’m always so “sold” on the concept of one-to-one conferencing and the value of it!  Then I get into the busy-ness, to-do, and management of classes – and then never make the time to have that one-on-one with kids.  I do manage some great conferences with the kids who come in at lunch, and I encourage them to come in for such “office hours”, but despite the thrill of spending lunch with me, it is never enough to lure the students who need it most away from their social lives.  So, I do need to find a way to embed the value and management of conferencing with future classes. writer conference

Finally, the last failure was in such things as progress reports and data – the kind of numbers I despise, but students crave.  I’m still not so sure where I sit on this other than my dislike of having kids identify themselves via a percentage value, and my disdain for numbers in general.  I believe in students, not the % they earn.  Perhaps I fail at generating these reports regularly for them as a blessing in disguise.  So, I need to get better at this, I guess.  Truly, this is a very grey area for me.  But I do feel duty-bound to provide the data, but in 16 years of teaching, this is still my Achilles heel.

One Kind WordSo, it is evident that I have some areas for future growth, but it is also important that I have reflected and realized that feedback comes in various forms, and in some measures of relationship and connecting with students,  I have really succeeded.  Now don’t get me wrong, although I’m positive-focused, I’m also honest and have a knack for those hard, yet honest conversations with kids.  Once I met a woman from the southern US who used the phrase, “Don’t piss on my back and tell me it’s raining!”   So, I work to be honest with kids, but kind, showing where hope exists for them!  Kids have a huge meter for BS, so if you’re just blowing smoke at them, they won’t buy into it.  It must be authentic and it must connect with them.

The first time feedback authentically connected with me was from a brilliant theatre adjudicator named Mira Friedlander. images (1) She explained to our adolescent audience that it was her job to give us feedback on our performances and her opinion was based on her perspective and expertise.  That she would give us all balanced positive feedback with feedback for improvement if we were to perform our show again.  “Improvement” – huh!  To my adolescent brain, I had only considered feedback to be praise or condemnation.  I always worked so hard to ONLY get praise, living in fear of condemnation.  Suddenly, Friedlander had turned my world upside down.  So when she offered each group, publicly, both praise and improvement – I came to crave the learning from feedback.  With drama classes, I have always trained students in the Mira-way, to great success and growth.  It is this same framework that I need to develop more coherently and mindfully in my English classroom.

Ultimately, the feedback I will continue to do, naturally, is choosing and modelling happiness and positive interactive feedback to build confidence and identity in my kids; validation and recognition is a wellspring for motivation and a sense of security.  But, of course, I will continue to strive to improve my efforts for feedback to improve their skills as readers, writers, and learners.  This time for reflection and reading has helped me to make cognitive sense of feedback, and incites me to improve my time and class management when I return to teaching in the fall so that I can implement these important goals for my kids.  I believe in lighting the fire in kids to learn, and I believe in the magic of my words having the power to transform both hearts and minds.

This post is inspired by:

1. Blog A Month Challenge: January’s topic: Think about how you will either give or receive feedback this semester and reflect on the practice of feedback. 

2. Allison Petterson’s Blog Post: The Power of Positive Feedback 

3. ASCD Types of Feedback 

4. “You’ve Been Doing a Fantastic Job. Just One Thing …”  – New York Times – Alina Tugend

5. “For Best Results Take the Sting Out of Criticism” – New York Times – Alina Tugend

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Blog-telling: Storytelling in the 21st Century

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Story   builds community, and blogging is a 21st century story circle. Storytelling is the essence of building culture, and so too is “Blog-telling” whereby the walls of the class disappear and the community circle strengthens identity and relationship within the classroom walls. Blogging has built our community and crafted our culture.

Story is the essence of my pioneer efforts with blogging in my Grades 10-12 English classes. Students carve out their stories and knowledge through blog writing, and in the process of sharing their works, publicly, they are connecting with each other. Blogging creates an e-portfolio of the evolving story of our writing identities – theirs and mine.

Writers in this 21st Century learning space are not only sharing stories, but in doing so, they are the stewards of their digital footprint – a footprint that not only contributes to their personal identity, but also to our class culture. Essential questions are asked: What will you contribute to our world? Will your voice be a voice of change, creativity, logic, inspiration, reflection, enlightment: “That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse… What will your verse be?” (Dead Poet’s Society)

The students’ verses become transformational when the students are not just the writers, but also the readers, as fans and critics, of each other. The exchange of story and feedback builds the community. The comments that the students craft for each other are thoughtful, relevant, and constructive. The most surprising benefit is that the blog has developed a trusting, compassionate, respectful community, virtually, that has transferred into the classroom itself. Blogging has allowed our walls to literally and figuratively disappear as the students work together to inspire, encourage, and validate each other.

As a teacher, I continue to “write beside my students” (Penny Kittle). My blogging journey continues this coming year: professionally and personally. Professionally, colleagues are jumping into blogging, with many cross-curricular classes; this is exciting to mentor the evolution of voices from various disciplines. My professional reflections will continue on my blog: https://thehunni.wordpress.com/. Personally, my family of four will be a family of blog travel writers living in Argentina for a semester; blogging will be the vehicle of our story to be shared with our friends, family, and classes. So, my experience in teaching blogging to students will expand to my nine and ten-year-old where they’ll share their journey, both experiences and learning, with their classes back in Calgary.   Our personal story, as a family, will be evolving at http://writeawayhunni.edublogs.org/ .

The journey of blogging has brought so much reward and satisfaction.  Please enjoy the journey of my students at our class blogs:  Creative Writing (see their individual blogs on the sidebar to the right), Grade 12 (ELA 30-1), Grade 11 (ELA 20-1) ,  and Grade 10 (ELA 10-1).

As my semester comes to a close, I will miss my students so very much as I journey abroad, but with blogging I get to keep the treasury of their voices always nearby.  I am so grateful for their efforts, for this treasure chest is filled with gold.  I’m also grateful that they too will keep me nearby via my blogging.  Like I said earlier, blogging makes the walls disappear!

“Story is the song line of a person’s life. We need to sing it and we need someone to hear the singing. Story told. Story heard. Story written. Story read creates the web of life in words.” Christina Baldwin – Storycatcher