being a teacher, grades, No grades, writing

A Simple Idea for Better Growth in Student Writing

For many years I have disliked grades and how they can affect the learning journey we are on.  In fact, I have disliked them so much that I dedicated an entire chapter in Passionate Learners about how to go almost grade-less, and yet, I work in a public school district that does do grades.   While my district is mostly standards based and rather progressive in its grading policy, the fact of the matter is that I still have to at some point quantify my students’ learning and assign them some sort of a number. No matter how much I detest this very thing.  And yet, having this expectation has actually allowed me to really embrace what grades can do for a conversation and how we, once again, can work within the confinements of a system and change the very conversation we are having.

One of my largest issues with grades is that it limits the very conversations we have with kids.  We end up letting the grades speak for us or we spend time leaving them feedback to only see kids do nothing with it.  And who can blame them?  If the grade has already been assigned then why should anything be taken to heart?

Therefore, I knew that I needed to change the very conversation we were having because I no longer wanted students to just ask how to get an A or a 3, especially in their writing.   I no longer wanted them to skip over their feedback and not really grow from it.  And while in my elementary classroom I was able to have a lot of time conferring with students, teaching 45-minute English classes meant that I had very little for the one-to-one.  And yet, the feedback is so very important because this is what changes the very conversation that we have with our students, especially when it comes to their writing.

So what did I change to create more meaningful learning opportunities where students actually used the feedback for something?  It is simple really, and I may be the last teacher to have figured this out but figured I would share it still.

Students turn in their rough draft a week before their due date.

Yup, that’s it.

Because my students now turn in their rough draft, I can leave them specific feedback and I also place our rubric in so they can see what they would be assessed at if this were their final draft.  They turn it in on a Friday, typically, I have it returned by Monday.  I leave them specific feedback, not “fix this…” but instead asking them questions about their writing and pointing out any significant areas of concerns.  They then get the next week to revise and resubmit.  They get the next week to ask questions.  I get the next week to confer with those that need more than just written feedback.

Does it work?  Yes!  As I assess their final writing pieces of the year, I can see just how much they have changed and refined since I left them feedback.  I can see how they have actually used the comments I have left them and have figured out how to grow their writing.  No more pointless feedback and no more feeling left out of the grading conversation.  Is it a lot of work?  Yes, I am not going to lie, but it is so worth it when it comes to seeing how they have grown as writers.  A bonus is that kids who tend to miss deadlines are now more on track since they know that they need to have a rough draft to turn in.

So there you have it, one small idea that goes a long way to give students more ownership not only over their final grades but also over the writing process itself.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


12 thoughts on “A Simple Idea for Better Growth in Student Writing”

  1. Wow! That is a great idea. Trying to give feedback has always been a problem for me. I have tried to conference with my students, but there is always one or two who take up most of a class period making it difficult to help the rest of the class. I like the idea of collecting on Friday, returning on Monday.

  2. What do you do to help the non performer? I have students who really struggle producing anything…just a few, but I know they could write something. I try not to shut them down.

    1. Whatever I can; help them write, build them up, offer up different ways to write, help them come up with topics. By the end of the year, they usually trust me enough to at least write something. I also ask for help from the amazing teachers that support in our classroom, sometimes they have some great ideas to engage.

  3. Here in NZ we use google docs Pernille – great for ‘live’ editing as you can pop in whenever you have a moment in your life – the student will share their doc in a quest for reassurance that they are indeed on the right track or to request advice about the way they are meeting their specific learning goal for writing and the comments are live and legitimate to that point of the production of that piece.

  4. Hello – and thanks for your EXCELLENT blogs, Pernille! I now have an almost entirely paperless (Google Classroom) classroom but still struggle w/comments on google docs as most may simply hit “resolve” without actually “resolving” and responding to my feedback. Have you designed a system that is more successful? If so, would you kindly share (along with examples of the type of feedback you might provide)? Many thanks!

    1. Two things seem to work better; one I leave mostly questions rather than directions, so “tell me more here or what do you mean by this?” Also, our geography teacher asks kids to not hit resolve so she can see the comments she left, I plan on implementing that next year

    1. I do not because they really don’t learn much from me fixing it. I point out run-ons, fragments and comma splices. I also tell them to check capitalization and read things out loud.

  5. Thank you! Awesome tips! I guess it gives more opportunities for the teacher to check the student’s work faster and more effective. Moreover, all the edits are visible in real time. I came across the great add-on for GDocs while using plagiarism checker by Unicheck and must admit that it makes checking papers much easier. Also, it is integrated with Google Classroom. Tech saves teachers time and nerves, for sure.

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