This post by NCTE member Shelby M. Boehm first appeared 10/12/17.
Since becoming an English teacher, I have been dedicated to improving the writing of my students without taking away their author’s role in the writing process. During my first year teaching, I was spending hours giving feedback that in my mind was helpful to a writer, only to find out the outcome was virtually useless: few students were revising their work, and the feedback was not improving their writing on the same assignment or similar future assignments. I could not justify spending hours with a red pen when revision was not the priority for my student authors; however, I could dedicate time to increasing ownership in authorship within my classroom writing culture. By creating intentional spaces for feedback and revision cycles in my classroom, students now think critically and authentically about their writing, which has led to diminishing the disconnect between how teachers and students define effective writing feedback.
In my tenth-grade English classroom, we study multiple genres of authentic writing. After I give feedback on each draft of a piece of writing, I ask students to respond to two prompts:
- Identify a feedback comment (via Google Doc or in a conversation) that was helpful.
2. Discuss the impact on your revision process or on future writing.
Many of my conversations with students reveal that intentionally thinking about their writing due to this feedback process leads to the motivation for improvement, leading to revised, oftentimes better, writing. A student who previously did not self-identify as a writer said, “The comments that I got showed me what to work on, and especially after I read through again, I knew what I needed to change.” The mere presence of writing feedback causes the author to participate in rereading and reconsidering their writing, even if the feedback comment is a reminder of what the author already knew about their writing.
I also conference with students frequently throughout the writing process to understand not only what they need in terms of writing improvement, but also who they are as developing writers. Receiving a draft is often half the battle; many students discount their talent and worthy experiences before even picking up the pencil. The act of writing is also the undertaking of using our personal voice to communicate ideas that are sometimes still developing on the page. These conferences help to build trust and create a culture encouraging vulnerability that leads to risk-taking and ultimately improvement in writing. I want to encourage my students to see themselves as bold, intrepid, evolving writers, so I work purposefully to create a classroom environment that honors exploration and reconsideration. During conferences, I ask my students these questions to think critically and authentically about their work:
- How do you define a writer? What characteristics does a writer have that you see in yourself? Do you consider yourself a writer?
- Show me a part of your work that you’re proud of. Explain.
- Show me a part of your work that you feel could be improved. Explain.
- Show me a feedback comment that helped you revise your work, and explain how you revised your work.
- What drives your decision to revise your work?
A focus on writing feedback has tremendous impact on both student outcomes and my instructional practice. This intentional space results in more student-driven revisions and therefore more conscious attention to developing as writers. In my experience, getting students to think about their writing after they submitted a piece was half the challenge; these feedback cycles now make that thought process an intentional part of our writing routine.
Shelby Boehm teaches tenth-grade English language arts at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the University of Florida’s affiliated K-12 laboratory school. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TeamBoehm.