I’ve been using a pretty efficient system of feedback for a few years now. It takes some time to teach your students, but once you’re all on the same page (pardon the pun) it makes giving feedback on students’ written work so much more efficient. I’ve pretty much outlined this in another recent blog post about peer feedback, you can read it here, but thought I’d go through it again with pictures I recently shared on Twitter. This process outlined is for a pile of 30 comparative essays written by my year 8 students under exam-style conditions (gosh, I’m so innovative!) as part of our Documenting Life project. This project requires students to create a 60 second documentary about a local issue, and in order to learn how to create an effective documentary they view and analyse two full length documentaries – He Named Me Malala and Before the Flood. During the viewing of the doco they were asked to take notes on WHAT the documentary was about (ideas communicated) and HOW the documentary communicated ideas (devices used to shaped meaning). After we finished He Named Me Malala I had the students write a timed response (by hand – gasp!) to the question ‘What makes He Named Me Malala a powerful documentary?’ I then gave feedback on this using my coding system – identifying medals and missions throughout the written response using a tick and a code for something done well, and a question mark and a code for something that needs improvement. At the end I listed their overall main medals and missions. When I handed it back, I explained what the codes meant and had students write up their medals and missions in a team Google Document. This helps me identify trends and know what to target for the next piece.
As you can see from the table above, a lot could identify devices used in the doco, but didn’t discuss ideas, analyse how a device affected the viewer, or give an example of its use. They also didn’t use a complex and succinct sentence structure. After they watched Before the Flood, I had them write another timed response, their question this time was ‘What makes Before the Flood a powerful documentary?’. I used the same process for feedback as last time. You can see their results below.
You can see a bit of an improvement – maybe it’s not obvious with these students above, but I noticed that they were making more of an effort to ensure they had a balance between ideas and devices, and that they evidenced their points. I also added more codes! Now that we had watched both docos, it was time for a comparative paragraph. I used their eagerness to turn their missions into medals (‘Ms, what do you mean by ‘sentence structure’, can’t you teach us?’) as the prompt teaching them explicitly (what, but she’s an inquiry teacher?!) how to write this type of analytical response. I showed them the essential elements of a strong analytical sentence written under timed conditions (where being succinct is essential), and deconstructed an example. I gave them a scaffold and some prompting questions, as well as some vocabulary they could use (terms related to docos, and strong verbs to use when introducing the effect of a device). I gave them an overview of what their paragraph should include (right down to the number of sentences – so prescriptive, but their freedom comes in what they say about the texts, and their word choice). Then I made them write it last period on a Friday, haha!
Here are my expectations for the paragraph:
So, by the end of that Friday afternoon, I had 30 comparative paragraphs to mark. Lucky me! Well, it was lucky for me that I had used a bit of a mastery learning process and taught the kids my coding system because it meant giving feedback would be super efficient! Below is a brief summary of my process (as I posted it to Twitter on Sunday).
- Ensure you have the tools you need – for me that’s a nice bright coloured pen, sometimes a texta and sometimes just a bright green gel pen!
2. Write up the list of codes you will be using – I often add to this as a go because sometimes I make up new codes (rarely) and sometimes I realise I needed one that I didn’t expect.
3. Work your way through the piece of writing as you normally would when giving feedback. Instead of just giving ticks and writing notes, just add the codes. If a students has done something well give it a tick and add the appropriate code. For example, if they have used a complex word, add a tick and the letter V. If they need to improve something (like their sentence structure) I either underline where the issue is (if it’s more than one word) or just put the code near it and add a question mark.
4. Sometimes I add a question to an aspect of their work to get them to think more deeply about what they were trying to say. Like, if they just vaguely say ‘making the audience think deeply about the issue’ I might say ‘What issue?’ or ‘Think what exactly?’. I don’t like to correct mistakes, just highlight them as students should be doing more work with this than me.
5. At the end I give them a summary of their medals and missions. I never give more missions than medals, and I try to balance them if the student appears to need a lot of help with their writing. I give lots of medals if they’ve achieved them – they really like that!
6. I give back their medals and missions – and get them to list them up on the class Google Doc… oh, and I gave year 8 M&Ms (get it, medals and missions = M&Ms?) too!
In the image below you can see how my students improved their writing. I can look at individual students, and see what their areas of strength and weakness are as writers in this form. I can also identify class trends – we still need to work on sentence structure (what I expected is very high level, my year 12 students do it, and they know they will keep working at it in future projects). I can see that vocabulary is something to keep working on as well, and that has led me to choose to have students read some classic literature next term alongside out poetry study. Overall, I’m stoked with how this process went, and can see a massive improvement in my students’ writing AND more importantly, their confidence as writers!