Feedback #SOL2022 22/31

Monday is the first day back at school after March break and my grade 9 students are reading descriptive feedback on their memoirs or personal essays. I had commented on the story, the organization, the use of language, imagery, dialogue, and the craft of their writing. They read quietly, raised hands, asked questions, and there were short moments which made the many long one reading and writing comments feel, in part, worthwhile.

One student wrote a powerful memory of the first day of kindergarten. Weight and water imagery connected with fears and tears, but then there was the banana.

“was I the browning banana left in the lunchbag?”

I posted a comment on the Google document: “This imagery broke the trance for me. You had me feeling the tension until this image which created humour instead of sadness. Was that your intent?”

Another essay about returning to school after the pandemic.

“Everyone was unwilling to touch another person. My brain pictured everyone and everything like they were infected. The air felt thick, I imagined that skin cells and virus particles were contaminating the fresh, rainy air.

I was there in the moment, following the tension, but then there were the dog treats.

We slowly shimmied into a tiny stairwell and we were made to wait until the morning bell rang, like dogs awaiting a treat.

I posted a comment on the Google document: “does this image capture the tone you want to convey? When my dog wants a treat, he is beyond excited. Was this the mood you wanted to convey?”

We sat together looking at the writing and I suggested searching the document for the similes to examine the comparisons (she hit ctrl F, typed in “like”).

“Oh, wow. I didn’t even realize I was using that, but now I see the pattern and know exactly what to do.”

Giving useful feedback is complicated and it feels like a relationship.

Another student calls me over to ask why I posted a comment highlighting “my” as repetitive. I read it out loud without the repetition, then with the repetition.

“But, I like both. I like the repetition.”

I didn’t agree. It’s only style, I thought. And sometimes people in a relationship disagree.

In an article for Edutopia Joel Garza, among others, made a series of suggestions for positive feedback on student writing. In particular, I appreciate his decision to avoid the “I” statements and this young student’s response to my style comment reminds me that they are writing and finding their own style so “I”, the one with more power, should be silent in the relationship.

I move to my writing desk to make notes, realizing each interaction with a student is feedback for me.

8 thoughts on “Feedback #SOL2022 22/31

  1. I was just reading my own daughter’s writing and we had a similar conversation about her use of similes and how some broke the tone of the piece. I love conferring about writing, pointing out the strengths in their work, and then discussing possible moves to make the work even more engaging. Have you read Katherine Bomer’s book “Hidden Gems?”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing part of your process and some of your realizations. Giving useful, actionable feedback is challenging in many areas and certainly when it comes to assessing others’ writing. With your questioning in the comments you invite dialogue which seems particularly meaningful for your students.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Giving useful feedback is complicated and it feels like a relationship.”
    MELANIE! This is exactly where I wanted to go yesterday, but didn’t because I couldn’t find the words. I ended up just writing about my thoughts around feedback, but, really, I wanted to talk about this — how it becomes almost, like a fourth dimension in teaching, and another level of a relationship with students. My feedback changes (in terms of delivery and content) dependant on my students, and what our relationship is, what their needs are, and what they can accept in that moment. Phew! Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

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