A girl and her cat take on the world with nothing more than a cup of tea and a good book and enough dreams to fill the universe.
Recently, I have been reading a professional development book over giving effective feedback that my district asked me to read at the beginning of the year. It’s not a thrilling read, but it has made me think about how I am interacting with students and how I am responding to their work and their behavior. It’s actually made me think back to LouAnne Johnson’s book Teaching Outside the Box and how she recommended to record yourself so you can see how your tone of voice and vocabulary changes for each student you work with. Johnson wrote about how horrified you will be by the results, but that you’ll fix it after that. I haven’t recorded myself yet, and to be honest, I’m afraid to.
I know that there are students that I do not treat as fairly or equally because I am constantly dealing with the same issues or I am tired because it’s the end of the day. Terrible reasons. Nonsense reasons. These are not the best teaching habits and I know this. I know it in my bones and there’s a special part of my being that is reserved for the self-loathing that I feel when I know I’m not being fair. I try very hard to treat every day as a new day for every kid, but there are days where that slips. The point is I’m trying to make progress for this.
While I’m not the proudest of my verbal interactions with students every day, I am happier with how I am handling written feedback. I never write on a student’s paper. If ever I have a comment that I want to make on a student’s paper, I write it on a sticky note and I stick it on the paper. I don’t go through with a red pen and mark up a paper. I always write with the foremost idea that I am communicating with another writer when I make comments on a student’s writing or engage in a conversation with them about their writing. I want to make sure that all of my students feel like they are valued writers who have something worth saying. Yet, this book about feedback is even helping me rethink what I am writing to them.
This book about feedback is bringing me back to the basics though and it seems that’s where I need to be. I’m rethinking all my responses to my students. When I write to them, I am constantly thinking about how exact is my response. What are my students taking away from my feedback? Is it useful? It is too vague? Am I too critical? This feedback book has inspired me to continue to prioritize time to write back to students, but it has also reminded me to keep in mind the student’s goals as a writer and how close we might be able to get to this goal. Are my comments helping my student reach these goals? I hope so, but I need to start checking back in with my students. I need to make sure that they also feel like they are participating in the conversation about their piece in a meaningful way. They’re seventh graders, so this is a little challenging. It’s a little challenging for me too to meet with each individual student to discuss their writing and goals, but it needs to happen.
Here’s my promise to my students after reading this book: I promise to include you in the conversation. I promise to pause before I speak to you and to really think about what is the purpose of my statement. I promise to continue to treat you like a writer and to respect your writing decisions. I promise to try a little harder in this area as often as I can because, at the end of the day, that’s all I can do and hopefully, I will have also grown by the end of the year.
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Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller
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Stefan Falke photographs artists who live and work along the 2000 miles long U.S.- Mexico border to document the vibrant culture of the region on both sides. All photos © Stefan Falke (use with written permission by the author only)