Week in Reflection: February 23-27

This week I am caught up on grading.  I’ve seen lots of talk out there among the English Edublogosphere and Twitter about feedback on student writing.  Something I do about once a semester is type comments as I read a student’s writing.  I usually wind up with about a page when I’m done.  It’s like a written conference.  I wish I had more time for writing conferences in my schedule.  I tried recording my feedback, and it felt like an awkward additional step.  Because I have smaller classes, I am able to give substantial feedback on writing and still ask my students to do plenty of writing.  That’s not to say it’s not a challenge to grade, but it’s such a reward when I can compare students’ progress.  It’s really evident when I compare ninth graders’ writing to eleventh graders’ writing.  It’s not that eleventh graders necessarily are inherently better writers, but I can see the growth that has taken place because I know they were writing like the ninth graders two years ago.  Another thing I have done is allow students to revise for a higher grade.  I gave my students a handout with Seven Deadly Sins — seven common grammatical issues I see in their writing — and a point value to be subtracted for each instance of the “sin” in their paper.  They can erase their sins by figuring out what they did, correcting it, and attaching an explanation of their errors and corrections to the second draft.  All is forgiven.

Right now my juniors are writing poetry explications.  I don’t think I was asked to write an explication until I was in college.  My freshmen are busily writing argumentative essays.  My sophomores are in the midst of a research paper.  Lots of writing going on!

I have really been enjoying the conversations with my department this week.  Teaching can be so isolating, and it is good to connect and discuss with those who share the same burdens and joys that we do as a result of working in the same place.  I feel sad when I hear stories of departments that aren’t close and refuse to collaborate.

My juniors read poetry (John Donne to John Milton) this last couple of weeks, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of positive comments regarding the readings that they were making on the classroom blog.  My students are generally, I believe, fairly honest about their likes and dislikes.  When I was first exposed to these writers, I admit I didn’t care much for them.  In fact, until college, I didn’t much care for writing before about 1800 or so.  All that changed, and I actually find I like the older literature more now (go figure), but I have to admit that my teachers in high school did very little to engage me in that literature.  I had one excellent English teacher in high school, and the rest of my English classes are a blur.  I remember a lot of what I did with her because it was engaging and interesting.  I hope I am not flattering myself too much to think I have actually engaged my juniors in Late Renaissance/Restoration poetry, but it feels good to read such positive comments.

What this post lacks in coherence chalk up to the fact that what I share is more or less stream of consciousness.  Grad school is starting to get challenging.  I’m learning, and I am enjoying my classes, but I can’t pretend it’s not difficult.

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6 thoughts on “Week in Reflection: February 23-27

  1. I wish I could say that I have caught up on grading or that I have typed mini writing conferences for all of my students. Great job Dana and great job inspiring us to reach and grow. I agree with your assessment of grad school, it is rigorous, meaningful, and challenging. It is really cutting into the hours in a day and I guess it has a right to. I am going to seek out those positive comments about poetry on your classroom blog. I teach freshman and seniors but believe there is inspiration in teens inspiring others to read great works. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love your idea of typing comments as you go in grading a student's papers. I'm preservice and always looking for ideas of how to manage my time while still giving effective feedback. This seems like a great back-up plan when in-person conferences aren't possible. Even when they are it would be great to have those in-the-moment reflections on hand when meeting with a student.

  3. Hi Dana,

    We use this program for our research papers called NoodleTools. It is accessible from anywhere and allows you to comment on your students' notecards as they prep research papers (we are doing our multi-genre one now).

    I usually write a short narrative at the end of a kid's paper (trying follow Carol Jago's ideas), but depending upon the current workload, it can be shorter than I'd like. I'll have to explore your idea. Are your 7 Deadlies on your handouts?

  4. I don't think the handout is there. I do have the PDF on this computer, but it has information specific to my students (namely, the fact that they're 11th graders) on the handout. Still, if you would like to see it anyway, I'm happy to post it. Since I don't see the original on my flash drive, it must be on my work computer, which would make sense as I think I created in August before I got my Mac.

  5. I love your reflections:they always speak to my wishes and worries. I am co-teaching an SAT prep elective this quarter, and have been boggled by the differences between my methods and my math colleague's methods to prepare the students. English is time-intensive and, some would say, life-sucking. But the more they write, the better they get at it. So their quarter papers focus on what we read, and the blog and wiki focus on the connections between what they read and what they think/feel. Some days I feel the two are getting closer; other days, not so much. I, too, write conferences. When I taught college, I worked as a writing coach as well, and it was the BEST way to close gaps between skills and performance. Thanks for voicing your plans and ideas for all of us.

  6. I love your idea about typing comments on students' writing, and even more so, the concept of Seven Deadly Sins. I am finishing up my M.S. in adolescent education and will be teaching English as well, so I find these to be very inspiring as I plan to have my students do an abundance of writing as well. I also had one great high school English teacher who always kept the class so engaged, which is what inspired me to change careers and also become an English teacher. He is the one who made me enjoy writing, and your reflection reminds me of how important it is to keep students engaged and interested in the work they are doing.

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