Last week I attended a workshop in Atlanta, Georgia where I was able to explore models, critique, and descriptive feedback in the context of education and a new curriculum. While I was grappling with the new information within a new philosophy I was struck with intellectual lightening bolts and I considered my own writing practice talking with my table mates.
I love it when bubbles of my life run into each other — in this case teaching, coaching, and writing.
In the workshop I learned the purpose of the feedback is to motivate, inspire, engage, and to help them become leaders of their own learning. Everyone needs a coach from ballet dancers and basketball players to writers, but there are key components about the feedback that make it more powerful.
In order to produce high quality work you need to know what high quality work looks like so models or exemplars are important. Students need to know what they are striving for in an end product.
I have used this idea for years. My go to example is to think of the last time you wrote your resume. I am certain you Googled at least one or two examples for you to reference before you wrote your own. Many teachers expect students to write pieces with no prior knowledge of the structure when as adults we would not follow the same practice.
Feedback is taught to be given as kind, helpful and specific.
Is it kind?
Is it helpful?
Is it specific?
A learner cannot make revisions to their work if they do not know what to change. Students are given feedback from teachers and peers in order to grow and to specifically improve the piece of work no matter what subject area. A fundamental piece of the puzzle is trust between the people giving and receiving feedback.
Following the rules stated above, feedback is intended to be positive so the results are improvement. People can be sensitive — and there is no reason to be unkind anyway. The process helps all parties become better at their craft.
Part of the key aspects of this area my group discussed was that it is essential for students to learn how to do this process well. It is a structured and the specific feedback needs to be given in small chunks so it is not overwhelming and changes can be made. You for instance don’t look for content, facts, statistics, and sensory details at all the same time. You do one at a time and change during each revision pass so it is done well and systematically.
“I liked it” is not helpful feedback to the writer at all.
“The prompt stated we need to provide 3 examples of evidence and you only provided 2,” is specific.
People like various delivery methods of feedback — small groups, written, pair shares, or being directly told.
Quality feedback has the ability to reshape students thinking about quality work and is a mindset shift.
Feedback is differentiated. Some students will need multiple passes of feedback from multiple readers. Other students may need just one reader. It is very individual.
This process promotes a positive culture for students. They learn to lean on each other for help with they need it and everyone becomes better.
Connection to My Writing Life
Considering the components are motivation, inspiration, engagement, and being a leader of your own learning revision is a real life practice in my life.
I find specific feedback motivating to make the story or essay better. It is exciting for me to know a reader’s perspective especially if they read something with a difference angle based on their experiences. I wrote a flash fiction story about a woman in an apartment several years ago and a fellow writer read it for me. She saw it as a woman who had been kidnapped and fell in love with her capture as a subtext because she reads a lot of horror. That was not my intention as I read it but as I reread it through her lens I could see where she was coming from. It was an interesting exercise to be able to read your own writing through someone else’s eyes.
Conversation with other writers about writing about specific pieces or just in general is inspirational to my writing.
Being a writer can be a solitary practice. I have to make an effort to seek out learning opportunities to improve my skills as a writer. One way to do this is to participate in critique circles.
As a writer I participate in several groups and the discussion and readings in the workshop paralleled with the work I do with these groups. To become a more skilled writer this is a necessary part of my process. I have to know how my writing is resonating with the reader. Sometimes as the writer I ask specific questions about things I want the partners to read for. Since I am asking for this help I am not offended when they tell me their opinion.
If there is a lot of work to be done to a certain story, I might have the group read the same piece several times for different things. As a writer I know I change tense often without realizing it. I had some critique friends read for me recently for this purpose. As a short story writer I am cryptic at times for my reader to put the puzzle pieces together in their mind. But I can be too vague and need a reader to tell me what they think happened so I can fill in the appropriate details to convey my intended meaning.
Sometimes readers specifically comment on the story lead or conclusion.
Sitting at that table in Atlanta I thought about how wonderful it is to teach young students how to give feedback in such a meaningful way that aligns with “real writers”. Years ago when I was in the classroom I rarely used writing resources specially written for teachers. The only exception would be Nancy Atwell. Otherwise it was Natalie Goldberg, Georgia Heard and Judy Reeves.
I am so glad I can share my experience with my students and fellow teachers now that I am back home. I might even talk about it with some writer friends too.
When I had my own classroom I provided a journal prompt on Tuesdays called 10 on Tuesday. I would provide a topic and the students would write a list of 10 things that fit.
I had an option in my room if students were compelled to write something they could “chuck” the topic — they just needed to let me know.
Some students would write a list of 10 words, some would write a list of sentences. Some would take an item from their list and write more about it or simply tell the whole story.
It was a change in format which met the needs of all of my writers.
Now on Tuesdays, I listen to Laura Tremaine’s “10 Things to Tell You” podcast. Listening this morning reminded me of this past activity. My writing prompt this morning was also a list so this post seemed appropriate!
I was going to write 10 Things I am Grateful For but decided instead to take a spin from Laura’s “What are your intentions?” topic.
My 10 on Tuesday:
I intend to live my day with fire today.
I intend to do at least one yoga pose.
I intend to write.
I intend to have meaningful, life giving conversations with teachers today.
I will intentionally listen to what needs my teachers are telling me through conversations.
I intend to pay attention to my surroundings today.
I intend to write down 5–10 experiences from my day.
I intend to write down a random memory.
I intend to smile and say hello to as many students today to celebrate Llama Tuesday!
I intend to enjoy a beverage when I get home from work.
Starting work with new people can be intimidating but relationships matter. Here are some actions I kept in mind this past week as I started fresh with two new groups of colleagues.
Go to the lunch you are invited to even if you are an introvert and usually do not eat lunch.
Listen more than you talk.
Offer to help even if it is something small
Ask questions — people like to talk about themselves and their roles
Visit their environment but keep it low key.
Don’t try to change anything…yet.
As I made the rounds yesterday in one of the new schools I now work in, I had quick conversations. The question I had at the ready was, “What is your favorite thing to teach?” Most of the teachers said math which was surprising to me. One showed off her wall of vocabulary.
I got even was gifted a loaf of fresh bread.
I heard from a reading teacher that a 10 minute number activity was something that changed her teaching. I always love hearing stories like this one. I was thrilled she shared it with me.
One teacher told me she was afraid of writing so we are working on it together this first trimester.
All week there was lots of peopling but I think it is going to be worth it. I am encouraged and excited for this year!
Tuesday was the meeting of the Short Story Club of 7th graders.
The first topic of discussion was the naming. They went to abbreviations and one student said it wrong and liked STC (we still don’t know what that stand might for) . The Anti Writers’ Block club was also thrown out. They decided on StoryTime Club for now. It makes me think of preschool time at the library. We can revisit the name but I think the kids will stick with STORYTIME.
Text Set Expansion
I gave them each a copy of Billy Collin’s On Turning Ten that is part of the text set we are creating with the short story Eleven. I had forgotten about it until an old copy with my notes fell out of the book I was copying a different poem from. It was Horoscopes for the Dead – talk about serendipity!
Discussion of Chuck Wendig’s story
What makes a good story?
What we learned from the first page?
Personal connections to the concept of “Shadow People”
how the setting confined the story to one building – then wonderings about what was beyond the building
the author’s use of numbers and how this changed the pacing and suspense of the story
why big tables and glowing briefcases were used in the story
7 Minute Freewrite
The work here and after was great. Several students read aloud. There was one story that was supposed to be scary but ended up sounding like a cryptic description of the dysfunction of the hallway! It was worth a laugh – or 7.
I have to do some nuts and bolts instruction on how to have a discussion. They were so excited they kept talking over each other to the point no one could hear or understand anyone’s words. I taught first graders to do it, I can do it for 7th too! In May…there is humor here…
No specific assignment was given for next week’s meeting. I met this morning with the teachers to work out the schedule and we are meeting Monday during their IMPACT time. I will also talk to them again about storyaday May and share some prompts.
The word hope has come up several times this week. I have learned that if a concept keeps showing itself in different venues then I need to pay attention.
Yesterday was my last session with Jim Knight for instructional coaching training and the topic was being a Better Leader. One of the main concepts was …you guessed it…HOPE.
Shane J. Lopez is a psychologist who has written about hope extensively. His definition is “the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.”
Part of Knight’s training session yesterday was asking the question: How are you living your life? Are you spending time on the things you are passionate about? This idea is how we keep hope alive and partly how we teach ourselves to be hopeful.
At this time of the school year it is easy to dip into the valley of despair and lose hope. I have to keep reminding myself I do the work I do to provide an environment of inspiration and learning for what is best for kids. When you are worried about schedules, state testing, and getting through the day sometimes you forget.
Part of this process is to do the next right thing. If you know where you are going, this isn’t as hard as it seems. Action is what needs to happen.
Knight asked us to think of someone who we thought of as a hope mentor. A person that emanates hope who we can learn from. Having a hope mentor is partly how we can teach ourselves to be hopeful. My person is Maya Angelou. She was open, intelligent, overcame obstacles, and can command a room. She was an amazing woman and I am thankful I was able to hear her speak before she passed away.
What are you most excited about?
Hope is doing more of what makes you happy.
Hope is allowing other people to teach you being hopeful.
Hope is having a hope mentor.
Three Things about Hope
Having hope means you have a preferred future vision. You can visualize it. You have goals.
Having hope means you have the belief you can get here. There is magic here.
Having hope means you have multiple pathways to get to that preferred future.
Some questions to consider and reflect on today:
What gives you energy and therefore hope?
What is your purpose? How do you make a difference?
Am I doing what I really want to do with my time?
What is working and what do I need to modify?
What is your next right thing?
This past week was busy for me. My sleep suffered and I was starting to crash. I was not taking care of myself.
Part of what helped me was 12 hours of sleep and the life giving conversation I had yesterday with my fellow coaches. We made plans to support each other in our hope. These questions are still with me today. I will do some more journaling and thinking as the day moves forward.
I would love to hear your thoughts on HOPE! Comment below…
Yesterday I hosted the introductory meeting of the Short Story Club for my 7th graders. It is a small group that is focusing on deep conversation about stories and time to write in response to them. After listening to Daniel Bauer’s School Leadership Series podcast I may have them name themselves. I would be curious where their minds would go as a label.
I handed out a copy of the Eleven by Sandra Cisneros. Sandra is an interesting author who attended the Iowa Writers Workshop, but did not have a pleasant experience. She also sometimes calls her stories, “buttons”.
Many of the students had read this story previously so this was a revisit. I asked them to read it through the lens of a writer. I wanted them to pay attention and notice particular things for them to purposefully use later.
What pops out to you in feelings from reading this selection?
What lines do you notice that you like or wish you had written?
What craft moves is the author using that you would like to try?
What aspects of your own life does the story remind you of?
I allowed them to annotate on their copy, and I followed suit with mine.
The discussion then followed after reading time, focusing on the above questions.
Noticings from students:
The details. It was noticed and remarked that the story has the structure of being taken apart and then put together again with added details.
The metaphors. There were trite metaphors used referring to onions and rings inside a tree trunk in paragraph 3. These examples caused quite strong opinions. There were mixed feelings about using familiar metaphors as opposed to new ones. The unfamiliar seemed to unsettle several writers. They said a mix of familiar and unfamiliar was the perfect mix for them as readers. They also remarked that unsettling new metaphors were best in stories where you were trying to conjure those feelings – like in a scary story.
I also asked them to share what they would write (if we had time). If they were to give themselves a prompt based on the story. What did it inspire them to write?
The responses were a mix of expected and not. Milestone ages were one topic for several students but not traditional in my eyes. One student talked about being old enough to ride his moped to school (15 1/2 years old). Quinceaneras at 15 were also discussed.
Not feeling the age you are was a common writing topic as well.
It’s Tuesday and I’m joining the writing community over at Two Writing Teachers with a weekly Slice of Life Story.
Today’s Emily P. Freeman word is STAY.
STAY today refers to being in the present moment. You can only be in one place at a time. I suppose this is mostly true. As a writer, I am physically only in one place at a time, but mentally I am usually somewhere else. This is sometimes in one of my own story creations. Sometimes I am in a memory mining it for details that will add panache to the story I am working on.
When I am reading I am in the character’s head feeling and thinking what they are, often trying to anticipate their next move. Or I am trying to figure out the craft moves the writer made to have me feel the way I do about a character, setting, or story line so I can use it later.
I find it difficult to be in the moment. I am working on it. I know I should do one thing at a time but there is so much to learn. Everyone I meet has something I don’t know.
I have been tired lately. More tired than I should be. Last night I watched the movie The Professor and the Madman which my husband and I had been looking forward to. It did not disappoint. It is the story of how the Oxford dictionary came to be. It took extraordinary dedication and focus to have this book come to fruition. 70 years from the first conception in fact. Dr. Minor was meticulous in his mad state about the history and definition of words. He was in the moment for sure – for long stretches of time. I kept thinking of how much energy was put into this project and how many obstacles everyone had to overcome.
I am trying to find the right ratio of input vs output without driving myself mad. I love input of all sorts – deep conversation, reading, podcasts, etc. Outputs are likely interactions and writing lately. I know I have not found the right ratio when I am angry or overly tired.
Reflection and slowing down are both critical attributes for this process. I am glad that today I can breathe and think about it.
Today’s Mentor Text is a picture book from Jacqueline Woodson.
This is the summary from Google Books: The story of one family’s journey north during the great Migration starts with a little girl in South Carolina who finds a rope under a tree one summer. She has no idea the rope will become part of her family’s history. But for three generations, that rope is passed down, used for everything from jump rope games to tying suitcases onto the car for the big move north to New York City, and even for a family reunion where that first little girl is now a grandmother.
After I use this book for interactive read aloud the discussion leads to sharing about items in our lives that are important to us. These items have stories attached to them. The book centers around one item. This is also a good time to talk about focusing on one idea for a story if your students are trying to squeeze too much into one piece.
One of the coaching questions I am starting to use is “Which 3 stories are ones only you can tell?” Stories are important to our lives and items can be touchstones to tell those stories. I love this book to illustrate the idea of an item being a souvenir for a chapter of our own lives.
After the group discussion I have students write 3 items that are important to them on a post it note or in their writing notebook. Then the students star one item that are willing to share. I will tell the students that starring and sharing does not lock them in to writing about that one during creation time.
Then we share out. I tell students that they may add or modify their list based on the discussion. Often when writers talk new ideas spring forth. We get reminded of something important. We need to teach students to take advantage of these sunny writing moments. The shared items are written on a chart so it is accessible to students during writing time.
We also talk about what they notice about the structure of how Woodson chose to write the book. We also talk about why she chose to use the repeated phrase. Noticing author moves is important to the writing process but we also have to make sure as the teacher we lead them to make the connections back to their own writing. To understand why an author chose to use a certain craft device also eliminates the need for students to throw everything they know about craft moves into one piece. It is much more effective for them to know WHY as the author they are choosing the way to write it. Connectons to other books we have read that have repeated phrasing is good to add here as well.
Woodson uses the repeated sentence stem: This is the rope at the beginning of almost every paragraph throughout the book, which is a great structure to start with especially with reluctant writers.
Writing Springboards from this book:
Use a repeated sentence stem: This is the __________ (insert important item for each student)
Brainstorm stories which go along with the 3 items the student has chosen.
Write a poem or their own children’s book about their most important item.
Companion book: Another book that follows a repeated pattern is The Important Book. It is written in poem form and is a good mentor text as well.
The coffee is brewing and the twinkle lights are on in my office. It is the simple things that are part of my routine that make the day go smoother!
I have already made rounds talking to teachers this morning. I had to follow up with a couple people about videos that were taken of their students before we left for break. I needed to get the reflection forms to them before any more time went by!
Today I want to share a quote that I will be writing about today from one of my FAVORITE short story writers, Kelly Link.
If you have never read Kelly click here for a link to her story, “The Faery Handbag.”