On Computer Programs and Our Most Vulnerable Readers

She asks me, “Well, what about Accelerated Reader?”

“What about it?”

“Well, it’s just so easy to use…I can see if a child has read a book really quickly.  I can see if they understand it.”

And she is right.  A program like Accelerated Reader 360 is easy.  It is quick.  It is less work for us, the teachers.  A child reads a book, takes a test, the score determines whether they understood it, what they need to practice, and what they should read next.  One computer program and so much work has been done for us.

So we hand the companies our money, sometimes instead of buying books.  We place our children in front of computers who decide which books they should read, which skills they should practice.  All we have to do is sit back and print out the results.  We have all the data we need right there.  It is so much easier to teach a child when we don’t have to take the time to get to know them.

But that is not enough….

We create readers and kids who like to read through interaction.  Through conversation. Through exploration.

We create readers when we feel a deep personal connection to a text.

When we hand over a book to someone else.  When a book stays with us, haunts us, and keeps us awake.  When we cannot wait for the sequel to come out or we cry when a series ends. When we rush to tell someone else about the experience we have just had with a book, or we tell no one because no one will ever fully understand just how we feel.

We create readers when we give them time to read.  When we help them work through text that they have self-selected.  When we give them choice and the room to explore.  When we offer them many ways to succeed.

When a teacher is there to protect, to guide, to help, to adjust and to learn about the reader that is in front of them.

Not just when we comprehend.  Not just when we cite evidence.  Not just when we can successfully pick out the theme that someone else has decided is present.  Not just when we purchase a “reading” program and fail to notice that it doesn’t actually do reading instruction.

And so I shudder when someone asks what computer program they should purchase for their struggling readers.  Which one will guarantee the most growth.  As if growth is the only defining factor of someone who reads?

And then I get angry because my child could be categorized as such, as a reader who struggles with text, as a reader who is not where she should be in her journey, as a reader who is the most vulnerable type of reader.  And I know the damage a computer would do to her hope to be a reader some day.  Because the simple truth is that the reason she believes that she will some day read chapter books is that caring teachers have kept that hope alive.  They have handed her book upon book and they have laughed with her through the pages.  They have taken the time to teach her in small groups or one-on-one.  They have gotten to know her so that when she gets down on herself about how she still cannot read chapter books, they tell her someday, and she believes them,

No computer will ever care about the hope that my child carries.  No computer will ever tell her to not give up when something gets hard or understand why she makes the decoding mistakes she does.  No computer will ever tell her that she IS a reader, even if she doesn’t feel like one. It would be the death of her.  And yet, we see it everywhere.  Computers doing all of the work that a skilled teacher should be doing.

We take our most vulnerable.  The kids who hate reading.  The kids who are not where they should be.  The kids whose gaps continue to grow and instead of putting them with a specialist, instead of putting them in an environment where books, and conversation, and interaction, and being on a journey together rule the day.  We push start and then walk away….

And then we wonder why they tell us they never want to read again.

So I ask you this; if you would not put your strongest reader in front of a computer.  If you would not take specialized instruction away from those kids who are advanced.  If you would never dream of subjecting a child to the whims of a program when they have already proven they are a reader, then why do it to those who need us the most?

Think about it.

Reading is not just about comprehension.

Reading is not just about growth.

About points.

About scores.

Or rewards or even pages read.

Reading is about a journey.  A love.  A dream kept alive that by reading a book we would be something more than we were when we started.

No computer program can ever provide that.

PS:  Before I get tons of comments about how that one kid loves the program, that is awesome!  I love computerized tests too because they are super easy for me.  Have them keep doing it, but don’t do it to those who don’t.   Who need more.  There are always kids that will, but if a program harms the love of a reading for a child, question the program, not the child.  To see some research on what does provide effective literacy instruction, start here

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  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.

On “Easy” Books and Better Readers

It has been a summer of easy reading so far.  A few YA books, a graphic novel when the book I was reading hit a boring spot, picture books every day.  My professional development books beckon, but my brain is not ready.  I need to read to read.  To relax – summer has been crazy so far – to laugh, to discover new books that I can pass on to others.  To not think too much, I need easy books.; books that remind me why I love reading so much.

I was asked on Friday; what about the kids who read books that are much too easy, how will we challenge them?  The problem was implied; easy books don’t offer up real growth opportunities.  Easy books don’t develop their skills.  Easy books don’t push them forward in the ever-present journey toward becoming a better reader.

But it seems as if, in our well-meaning intentions, that we have forgotten what a better reader really is.  A better reader is not just someone who can just tackle complex texts, who can comprehend at a deep level, who can answer the questions on the test to back up what we already knew.  While those are aspects, they are not the only thing that makes a child a better reader.

A better reader is someone who sees reading as valuable.  Who recognizes the need to read because they will feel less than if they don’t.  Who sees reading as a necessity to learning, for themselves and not just for others.  Who sees reading as a journey to be on, something worth investing in.  And so I wonder; when we tell children not to read easy books, how much of that individual reading identity journey do we dismiss?

Easy books, whether they be graphic novels, books below their actual comprehension skills, free verse, audio books, or even picture books, can get such a bad reputation in our schools.  As if those books are only allowed in the brief moment of time when they fit your exact level, whatever level means.  As if those books are only meant to be discovered when you have nothing else to read, when you actually are allowed to read for fun, rather than for skill.  Yet these are the books that keep us loving reading.  That keeps us coming back.  Those books that we devour in one sitting because we must find out what happens next, aren’t those “easy” books for all of us?

Do we tell our students to embrace easy reading whenever they want to keep them loving reading?  Or do we push them so hard to develop their skills that their connection to reading breaks and then we wonder why reading becomes something just to do for school and tasks?

And yes, I teach that child that reads Diary of a Wimpy Kid every day, who is not sure of what else he can read that will make him love reading as much.  My job is not to tell him, “No, you cannot read that,” but instead to show him other options.  Not to take away, but to recommend, while also protecting the fierce commitment that exists between a child and a favorite book.  To explore why that child loves this book so much and then help discover others like it.  To acknowledge the reading relationship that already exists and to build on that rather than breaking it apart at all costs because I know better.

I am not dismissing the need to challenge kids to read more, to read longer, to read more complex text, but we must be careful with what we then say when it comes to what else they should read.  We must make reading for enjoyment, whatever that means for a child, a central part of our teaching so that children can understand that reading for enjoyment is just as, if not more, important than reading for a skill.  And the research agrees.  Kamil (2003) points out, “Motivation and engagement are critical for adolescent readers. If students are not motivated to read, research shows that they will simply not benefit from reading instruction.”  So are we making room to embrace those books that happen to make our children, and adults, love reading?  Or do we only focus on those texts that will continue to challenge them, to move their skills, unfocused on the other damage it may do?

While our job, as educators, is to develop children who can read, our job is also to develop children who want to read.  The two are not always taught together, so it is up to us, to make sure that when we plan for our reading experiences that “easy” books and anything else that may keep a child’s love of reading intact is not only welcomed but encouraged in our classrooms.  We must ensure that when we plan for reading instruction, that we plan for the protection of the love of reading.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  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.

 

 

 

Ten Tools for Changing the Grading Conversation

While I have tried to move away from giving grades over the last seven years, I have been a failure at it.  Those pesky numbers or letters keep popping up in our classroom, whether I want them to or not.  That seems to be what happens when you work within a public school system that has made the grading decision for you.  For the past seven years, I have written about how to move away from grades, but what if that is not an option?  What if grades are a part of your duties and you have to give them no matter what?  And let’s face it; assessing students through grades is easy; put a number/letter on it and it tells the whole story for you, or so we think.  Put a number/letter on it and surely a child, or a parent, will know exactly what we are communicating and how they are doing.  And yet, that is not what happens within most traditional grading; kids don’t know why they get what they get, they feel they have no control, and parents aren’t aware of the full story.

I have to come realize that while I can pine for a gradeless system, where we do not place children into such boxes, in the meantime I can work within the confinement currently presented and change the conversation itself.  So rather than focus on trying to remove grades completely, I can make sure that the ones I am in charge of giving are actually meaningful, as well as controlled by the students, providing us with another tool for giving the learning back to the students.

We start by breaking down our learning targets whenever possible, and while this sounds incredibly formal, it is more of a pointed conversation.  What are we learning and why are we learning it are questions that students should be able to answer, even if the answer to why is to be better human beings.  Students have a hard time taking ownership over their learning process if they have no clue where they are headed.

We then discuss ways to get there.  As often as possible, students need have to different pathways to reach their learning goals.  While full personalization of product would be lovely, I am not able to provide that for my students at all times.  We then look to the five tenets of choice as ways to incorporate more personalization.

Students must know themselves.  We have two central questions we pursue as an English class all year; who am I as a reader and who am I as a writer?  Both of these lead to the self-reflection and discovery that students undertake.  After all, I need each child to know themselves well enough to know how they actually need to grow and also to find the motivation to become better.  That will not happen if I make the same goal for each child. It is also telling that many of my most resistant learners do not know who they are as learners.  How can we expect them to grow if they don’t even know who they are?

We know what the end assessment will be.  We have to discuss with students and help them understand what our grade level work reads like or presents itself as, otherwise we are asking students to shoot their learning into the dark and hope it sticks somewhere.  So actual student examples, modeling, and shared conversations have to be present during our learning as guides to the students.  Make it accessible without your direction so they can access it at any time.

We change our language.  Two years ago I adopted the “Best draft” terminology from Kelly Gallagher and have not looked back.  Often students will hand in their “best draft” rather than their final product.  Final product means exactly that; final, no need to revise, revisit, or rethink.  But “best draft” means that it is unfinished, that there is still work to be done, that even if the assessment is attached to it, it is preliminary at best and can be molded by their own efforts to change their learning product.

Students assess themselves first.  For big projects, (and I need to do it more) I will not assess it unless a child has first.  Otherwise, my voice is what they will conform to rather than their own reflection on where they are on the learning journey.  I need them to do the hard thinking work of breaking down their own skills and then seeing what their strengths are and how they need to grow further.  They, therefore, need to understand the rubric, the terminology used, as well as how they CAN grow.

They come up with a next step.  While I focus my feedback on the one next step, they also need to focus on what they are working on next and how else they will grow.  It is not enough for them to place themselves into an assessment category and then do nothing about it.  Every child needs to set the next step goal for themselves and then come up with a tangible plan to pursue it.  This will be a major focus for me next year as I am still trying to figure out how to do this best with teaching 130+ students.

They direct their learning.  Part of our learning journey is figuring out how they learn best within the confinements of our time, our environment, and the curriculum we do need to explore.  So who do they work best and where in the room do they work best are parts of their self-assessments, not just a number or a letter grade.

They take ownership over their assessment.  While the number (we are standards based) is not the description of them as a learner, it becomes part of our conversation.  We must go beyond handing out numbers or letters so that students can understand what it means to create work that is at a “2” or a “3” and then move beyond that even.  Making the number or letter something that is in control of the students changes their own classification.  No child is a “2” in our classroom, the specific work may be at a “2” level; there is a big difference there.

They want more.  My students know that their score, which is often selected by themselves, is just a part of their assessment because they are consistently provided with feedback either through a rubric, written out, or a conversation.  Very rarely, except for on our spelling packets, are they just given a score with no further explanation.  That means that they know that the number is merely a symbol of something larger and not the only designator.  They know that there is more to the story.  In fact, they get so used to this that if feedback or reflection opportunity is not provided that they ask for further clarification.  This is an indicator, in my eyes, that they see how little the actual number/letter symbolizes and need more information.

The thing is with grades, they are a tool like any other.  It is when we let them dominate our conversation when they become the only thing we discuss that we lose kids in the process.  Grades were not meant to be easy, they are meant to be a conversation starter and so it is up to us to start having those conversations if we want students to truly have ownership over their own learning journey.

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.

Giving and Receiving Feedback So It Doesn’t Hurt

Feedback.  At times even just the word is enough to elicit shudders, at other times, it is met with a shrug.  How we react depends on many things; our state of mind, our relationship with the person providing the feedback, the subject matter, and even the approach.  Sometimes the right piece of feedback transforms, other times it wounds.  And yet, feedback is a major part of being an educator.  Learning how to approach it, how to use it, and how to grow from it are all essential parts of being a better educator.  Knowing that feedback is inevitable, that we are meant to use it, and also that we do control one thing in the process; ourselves, I have a few ideas that may make receiving (and providing) feedback a better process for everyone involved.

If you are on the receiving end…

Listen with an open mind.  This is easier said than done, but one way I try to approach it is by reminding myself that feedback allows me to grow, but in order for me to grow, I have to first hear it.  That means that when someone is providing me with feedback, I focus on actually hearing it.  Not just picking up on a few things and then getting stuck on them.  A tip is to repeat what has just been said, such as by saying, “What I am hearing you say is…” that way you can fine tune what is being said and in case there is a misunderstanding, it can be cleared up right away.

Assess the situation.  Is this scheduled feedback from someone who has to evaluate you or is this drop-by feedback from anyone?  We all know that much depends on the actual situation and that feedback can be tainted by emotion and circumstance.  So if you are sitting in a formal evaluation, know that providing you feedback is part of that evaluator’s job and that everyone has something to grow on.  If the feedback is coming from an unexpected source and seems to be an attempt to make you grow in an unexpected way, approach it from a conversation starting angle.  A tip is to ask questions, such, “How would you approach the situation?”  or “Can you provide more details in order for me to understand?”  That way you can gather a larger scope of why the feedback is being given.

Take a breath.  Too often, our haunches come up when we are given feedback.  Being an educator is a deeply personal mission and so we all go in there trying our best every single day.  When someone points out an area of growth for us, it is hard not to take offense  Yet, this is exactly the opposite of what we should do.  Instead, thank the person for providing you with the feedback and then take a moment.  Just because feedback is given does not mean you must have an immediate response to it.  Offer to get back to the person once you have some time to digest, or simply explain that you need some time.  Sometimes feedback can really hurt, it is okay to have these emotions, but what is not ok is to get stuck there. That is why my next tip is to explore the emotions that have occurred.

Search for the source of hurt.  If the feedback hurts or is upsetting in some way, allow yourself to feel that way, but do take some time to reflect; why does this hurt?  Why is it upsetting to you?  Is it because you were unaware of needing to grow in this area or is it because of how it was delivered.  Often times, it is not the actual feedback that causes big emotions but everything else we add to the situation.  Do you trust the person giving it to you?  If not, why not?  Do you understand why it has been given?  Do you understand the bigger picture?  Is the feedback really directed toward just your practice or is it because you are part of the bigger picture?  If you feel the feedback is meant to hurt you then ask clarifying questions, never assume as it may cause further damage down the road.

Share to process, not to vent.  Often times, we end up venting without wanting to hear solutions.  While there is definitely a time and place in education for venting when it comes to feedback, a much better approach is to share it with a trusted colleague to get their perspective and wisdom, rather than just their solidarity.  Often times, because they are not emotionally attached to the situation, they can provide us with a new lens and help us see the bigger picture, rather than just the parts that may be upsetting.

Come up with a next step.  Once you have allowed yourself to process the feedback, decide on your next step.  How will you actually grow as a practitioner?  Even the most hurtful feedback can cause great reflection so no matter what, find out how to use it.  I have found that the more tangible of a step I can come up with, the better because I then feel like I am doing something about it.  So when a child tells me they hate reading, or a parent is disappointed in me, or someone I work with tells me I need to change a part of my teaching, I think of how it allows me to focus on that aspect of my teaching and get better at it.   Once I then implement the next step I feel like I can continue on my journey.

Realize we all need to grow.  There is no such thing as a perfect teacher, yet many of us think we have to be one.  Feedback can, therefore, be viewed in a deficit mindset where we assume that we are poor teachers, rather than ones that are growing.  So instead, realize that to have great days we also need to have days, or moments, where we hit rock bottom or worry that we are not enough.  While feedback that is meant to help us grow can sometimes knock us down, we are the ones that decide how to approach it, and ultimately, what we can use it for.  You can let it matter in a positive way, realizing that whatever was remarked upon is now an area you can grow in, or you can become angry and shrug it off.   Ultimately how you approach it is your choice, so why not use it for good.

Finally; ask for specific feedback.  If you are unsure about a person’s intentions or you feel particularly vulnerable, instead of waiting for feedback ask for it.  This also works really well as a simple step toward better teaching.  Whenever I am observed I ask for certain things to be evaluated because these are things I know I need to grow on.  This offers those observing a lens with which to view me through, as well, as a way for me to have some sort of input in the process.  When I am given feedback on specific things and then offered other feedback it is much easier to approach it as a package of growth rather than as a sign of failure.

If you are on the giving end…

Relationship trumps all.  Sometimes the hardest feedback comes from those we trust the most, therefore spending time building trust and professional community always pays off in the long run.

Think of timing.  If you have something harder to discuss, think about when during the day would be best to give it.  It is really hard to receive feedback that pushes you to grow right before you have to go teach a class.

Ask for it to be restated.  Make sure that the person receiving the feedback actually understands it.  While I don’t mean to have them repeat it back to you, simply asking; “What does this mean to you?” or “How does this fit into your growth plan?” is a great way to check for understanding.

Find the right method.  Sometimes feedback needs to be given but not from you.  If you know that feedback will be taken a certain way because of your position, then see if there is another way it can be given.  Sometimes feedback is given through professional opportunities rather than direct conversation.

Speak the truth.  Sometimes hard conversations need to be had, there is no way around it, therefore speaking the truth, keeping it human, and trying to focus it as a professional growth opportunity, rather than a personal attack, is the only way to do it.  Acknowledging that certain feedback can be really hard to hear can sometimes undo a lot of resentment.

Check yourself.  Is this feedback given in the right framework or even in the right spirit? Sometimes we are so eager to provide ideas for others that we forget about how it can feel to receive it.  So make sure that when you do provide feedback to someone that it will actually be worth the potential hurt or discomfort it may cause.  If not, reflect; why do you feel the feedback needs to be given?

Know the full story. I have been given unsolicited feedback where it was clear that assumptions were at play rather than a true understanding of what was going on.  This can lead to some really painful conversations and even to a lot of confusion. So ask questions straight to the person before you offer up any feedback.  Make sure you actually know more than you think you know.

While feedback can be viewed as hurtful, it can also be an incredible source of growth.  What matters is how we approach it, the time we are given to process it, and the tangible things we can then do.  May this be of help in the process.

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.

Does Reading for Pleasure in Schools Really Make a Difference?

Sometimes we are up against insurmountable odds without even knowing it.  Odds that seem to already be against us.  Facing conditions that are no fault of our own, and yet, we are the ones that are supposed to change it.

Often this can be how teaching feels.  Like we are not just teachers of content, but instead, also the frontline for changing how students feel about school, feel about teachers, feel about anything that may happen within our days together.  There are many things that my middle schoolers have taught me, but one of the biggest lessons is that it is not just you they are reacting to; it is everything you stand for, everything they feel you represent.

English class tends to not be a popular thing.  They tell me our class wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t have to read or write.  At times, I feel like I have lost before I have even begun. I know many students hate my class before we even start, it is part of the job I suppose.  And yet, we teachers, know that there is always a chance.  That we can be the change for some of our students.  And so we pin our hopes on promises of change and ask our students to give a chance.

I asked my students to give reading a chance this year.  I promised them that if they liked reading, I would do my very best to protect that love.  That if they disliked it, or even hated it, I would try to create an experience that would perhaps change their perception even a little bit.

I polled them at the beginning of the year and was frankly horrified at what I found.  Out of 130 students, 53.6% of students reported that on a scale from 1 to 10, reading was a 4 or less.  That’s 70 students.

70 students that despite their previous teachers best intentions have already decided that reading is really not for them.  Out of those 70 students, 35 students reported that they hated it.  Hated it.  Not just dislike.    But hate.

So what do you when you are faced with such insurmountable odds?  What program do you lean on?  What curriculum do you implement?

For us; none. It turns out it is much simpler than following a curriculum.

What made the biggest difference to all of my reading hating students?

Books, and plenty of them.  Books that were accessible through audio and text.  Books that were not there to push them in a certain direction.  That were not forced on them.  Picture books for the days where chapter books seemed to be too much work.  Free verse for those who had lost their connection with the magic of reading.  Graphic novels meant to teach, entice, and enthrall.  Everywhere they looked there were books and the books called to them.  Without judgment.  Without restriction.  Without one path to being a reader.

We also took time.  Ten minutes every day to read.  To find books.  To have conversations about the texts we chose.  To find something worthy of our time, that we perhaps would want to read later as well.  Ten minutes that were the expectation coupled with the idea that one should only read good books, not waste our time on books that would make us dislike reading more.  To abandon when needed, to book shop when desired.

And finally, we had each other.  Teachers that read and recommended.  Peers that read and passed on books.  A sense of urgency to read books that worked for us, that mattered to us, that would make us like reading or stay in love with it.  That would challenge us even if we were not sure how.

So this year, once again, we spoke books and every day I hoped for a change.  Every day I worked toward a change.  And how did it go?

On our end of year survey, I once again asked students how they felt about reading.  Then I held my breath and waited for the results.

I started the year with 70 students telling me they disliked reading.

Now there are 26.

104 students now say they have a better or continued positive relationship with reading.  Is it perfect?  No, but even within the kids that still ranked it less than a 4, 14 of them said they disliked it less.

That means that within a course of 10 months; 118 students or almost 91% of my students have a more positive relationship with reading than they did before, or that their relationship remained positive.

Because of great books at their fingertips.

Because of the time to read every day.

And because we built a community where reading for pleasure mattered and that became our curriculum.

It is not perfect, but it is a start.  It is not every child, but it is many.  It is not unreachable, but instead a promise of creating better reading experiences that in the end mattered to the kids.

And that is why I will continue to find the time for reading for pleasure in our curriculum.  Why I will continue to champion reading for pleasure, choosing your own books, and giving time to students to read within our class periods, because it works.  Because the proof is right here, in the very kids I teach.  And I don’t think there is any curriculum, nor computer program,  that could have provided me with the same result. Those come after, after we nurtutre the love, the interest, and the right to read books that matter.  So if you are wondering how to get kids reading; start with the foundation of choice, of time, and of community.  Then look at all the rest.

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.

 

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.