Feedback, Bubbles, and Kindness

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.

Just Breathe #SOL

Yesterday I spent time on a video call with some of my creative companions. We were discussing how we can get overwhelmed by fear. One of the other people said we just have to remember to not look at the big picture all the time and we just need to focus on the next right thing. It reminded me Emily P. Freeman’s book and podcast of the same name.

Yesterday was a frustrating day of work. It was the day of unhappy morning meetings, lost orders, wrong orders, and classroom visits being cancelled. It was one of those days where you wonder why you got into your profession. It’s the day you fantasize about a job where you don’t have to think. I know I wouldn’t be satisfied with a job like that, but my mind went there.

Yesterday I had to assist with a standardized test given to a young third grade class. A group that had never seen scan-tron and didn’t understand the importance of filling in a bubble.

Words came back to me from my years of giving ISTEP+: Fill in the circle completely and make your mark dark. If you need to change an answer, erase your mark completely and make your new mark .

In between each of these 10-minute tests I led them in a breathing exercise as a brain drainer. I had them inhale, fill their lungs and hold the breath. Then we exhaled without any sound. We did three rounds and were all calmer. I’m a yoga teacher and I used to say many times “I need my own yoga today” at the beginning of class.

Yesterday was a day I needed my own breathing exercise. It took a group of young third graders help me along the way. It was the next right thing I needed to do to heal myself.

aerial photo of pine trees


What do you need to heal today?

Writing Voice

Writing With Possibility, Power, and Voice

Yesterday was a district e-learning day. Students were at home with assignments on Google Classroom and teachers were in various buildings all over the district in professional development workshops.

The session I was in charge of was about Cornelius Minor’s writing workshop I attended this summer.

One of the main points is verbalization – the talking before the writing. Minor suggest using visuals that are interesting and relevant to students. Students needs practice with concepts 9-10 times before they have to produce written products that exemplify the concepts.

One of the activities we did was to find a meaningful picture on their phone. Then teachers paired up with someone they did not know and share the story of the picture. It build community and gave everyone practice telling a story they could later writer.

The teachers did quickwrites and sharing protocols. My intent was to have 2 hours of interaction and conversation about writing. I am happy to say – it worked!

I was impressed with the participation and work from these teachers. It made me proud to be part of this profession.

Weekend Coffee Share

Join me for coffee and conversation!

It is Sunday again and the temps are a little cooler here. There is supposed to be a heat wave this week here in the Midwest later this week. I hope it stays away.

If we were having coffee I would tell you this weekend is the anniversary of me moving into the house I am living in now. It is not my forever home and I feel it. The birds do great us every morning as do the bunnies and the baby squirrels. There is lots of green which I adore.

If we were having coffee I would tell you it was a productive and busy week at work. Lots of conversation and planning which was positive.

If we were having coffee I would tell you I am in week 5 of the Artist’s Way program. I am doing my morning pages every day which are three handwritten pages of whatever comes to mind. It clears the way for the creative juice to flow. On Thursday night the ideas kept coming for articles and stories and I really wish I could have taken a writing day ALL DAY Friday to massage and nurture those words into pieces but alas the day job and other responsibilities called.

If we were having coffee I would tell you Storyaday is going strong. I have been writing to the prompts everyday and it has been going well. I enjoy the challenge and use it to try different techniques to foster my writing skills. I tried a new genre this week — cyberpunk. It was out of my comfort zone but a fun experiment. I wrote a 100ish word story and still do not like them! hahaha I have met some new writers through the group as well and that has been interesting. The Zoom call was Tuesday night. We did a lot of writing sprints — where we set the time and write all together — but there was some talking. I write in the morning on my own so I show up more for the conversation then the word count. It does get me some extra words. This week I worked on nonfiction during the call.

You can read the whole post here.

Weekend Coffee Share

Thank you for joining me for coffee today on this hot hot summer day! I am so glad you are here with me and it is to be a day full of sunshine.

I am having my regular strong black coffee. What would you like today? I have some iced tea if you like, or do you want something stronger today?

To read the rest of this post please click here. Please comment and clap (I believe you can clap up to 30 times).

Birthday Weekend Coffee Share

I am excited you have joined me for coffee today. It is Father’s day in the US and my birthday. I think we will have some birthday cupcakes this morning to celebrate but no singing.

I am having a Butter Brew coffee with a shot of espresso for the occasion. What would you like today?

If we were having coffee, I would tell you this week has been full of ups and downs.

To read the rest of this post please click here. Please comment and clap (I believe you can clap up to 30 times).

#WeekendCoffeeShare #Sunday June 9

I am so glad you are joining me for coffee today! This post is inspired by Eclectic Alli. My summer has officially started and I am feeling amazing! Let’s take our coffee and go for a little walk and then we can sit under the trees as the time stretches on.

You can read the rest of the post here. Please clap and comments if you enjoy what you read!

What will you tell me as we are having coffee?

#WeekendCoffeeShare #Sunday June 2

I am so glad you are joining me for coffee today! Today feels special today because it is my second day of summer vacation. This does not mean that I am out of work completely. There are some workshops and training I will be going to but I do not have to drive into work every day. To be home is glorious. I appreciate this schedule change. It usually takes me a week to recalibrate myself but I do not think I will have that issue this year.

You can read the rest of the post here.

Please clap and comments if you enjoy what you read!

Happy Sunday! If you would like to support me additionally you are welcome to buy me a cup of coffee: http://ko-fi.com/tammybreitweiser

What will you tell me while we have coffee?

#WeekendCoffeeShare #Sunday May 19th

Today please join me for a coffee. We have some catching up to do!

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I was a guest blogger on Teachwrite’s blog on Monday. If you missed that post you can read it here. It is called Ten Minutes of Truth.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I am still writing everyday with Storyaday May. This week my stories got a little dark and a little emotional. It is not a bad thing, but it was surprising to me. Here are some of my favorite prompts this week:

Day 19: 3 Perspectives

2019 Day 17 -Aphorisms

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I am using Sarah Selecky’s writing prompts every day. It is pushing me to think differently about stories somehow and I am pleased with them. Some I will revise and submit and others I will expand. I am considering her Story Course for my birthday. I would love the benefit of mentors but the price point is not one I can swing right now.

If we were having coffee I would tell you I was a little disappointed I wasn’t able to earn a scholarship to a writing conference. It happens and I will still keep writing. I was hopeful this time. I threw my hat into the ring so I am pleased with the effort.

If we were having coffee I would tell you my students did their Living History event on Wednesday. Children from the elementary school come and learn how to dip candles at our station. There is a fire where we melt the wax and my 8th graders do a skit to explain the process. They really did a great job and led the little ones well.

While we are having coffee, I will tell you the Bradbury Trio challenge is going strong as well. I am hoping the input of great writer words will influence my writing and help me hone my craft. I need to make sure I am savoring the writing and not just ticking off the poem, essay, and short story for the day. I was doing that with the books I was reading just to get the number. It doesn’t make it satisfying if I do it that way.

Do you need a refill on your coffee? I am going to get another.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I received my Small Beer Press publication on Saturday. If you have read my blog at all, you know I adore Kelly Link and her writing. One speech I watched she spoke about horoscope stories she had written for a friend’s Kickstarter. I found the booklet of stories for sale and have been reading them over and over. I will use it as a model to write my own.

If we were having coffee I would tell you I am nearing the end of the school year. The 31st is my last day. I have some training this summer but not too much. I am going to be teaching a workshop on Better Conversations at the end of July. I have a flash fiction writing class at the beginning of July I am super excited about as well. My birthday is in June too so that will mean a good dinner!

If we were having coffee I would tell you I finished reading a novel. I have not been ticking off the books like I have in the past since I am focusing on the Trio. I would recommend this book.

It was well written and there were some surprises at the end. It was a Book of the Month Club selection several months ago.

What will you tell me while we have coffee?

Here is the link to Eclectic Alli and her weekend coffee post and link up.