The end of the year writing survey: looking back to plan ahead

Next week, as we wrap up our writing workshop year and prepare for our final writing celebration, I will have one last task for my kids: the end of the year survey.  This is my last chance to ask my students for some reflective feedback about our writing year, to gain some insight into their thinking about what worked and what fell short.  Unlike the beginning of the year writing survey, when the year seems full of hope and promise, we arrive at this survey in a somewhat more subdued frame of mind: some things went well, and some did not.  A year is a long time, when a lot of life happens both within and without the classroom, and who knows what we will learn when we pause to reflect?  But…how can we move forward as teachers, if we don’t reflect on our teaching practices and gauge which of these practices really helped our students make gains as writers?

So, the end of year writing survey.

In my classroom, I begin the process with a quick summary of what our year has been like: the genres we’ve covered, our workshop routines, our everyday efforts to improve as writers, and some of the challenges and successes we’ve faced and enjoyed through the year.  Then I hand out the surveys , and ask for their honest responses.  Tell me what you think, I say, so I can improve as a writing teacher.

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While my students complete these, I fill out a survey of my own.  I want to do this as memories are still fresh, and my thoughts are still informed by daily interactions with my students – when their individual writing DNA is still imprinted in my teaching brain.  This takes the form of a simple grid, in which I fill out my own thoughts about: what worked for this particular student? what did not? what are my thoughts about why things fell short?

Or classroom is quiet at this time, save for the scratch of pens and pencils; we work together.  As I fill out my chart, I glance at each student as surreptitiously as I can, trying to remember their stories.  For teaching writing is all about getting to know our kids’ stories.  This year:

I will think about T. who spent so much workshop time looking off into space, in her own world – trying to come to terms with divorce and what that will mean for her young life.  Writing workshop gave her the space to sort out her thinking and write about her feelings.

I think about B., who has finally learned the discipline of writing workshop, and is beginning to write with confidence. Tuchis in the chair and get to work, our mantra after mini lessons and turn and talk, was a hard path for B. to follow until the last workshop weeks.  But now, he owns it.

I think about A., so gifted and so careless with her talents.  We have had to work to bring those diverging paths together.  I think she finally learned the truth of the quote that hangs on our classroom wall:  “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. Robert Frost”.

I think about K., just beginning to realize only now, in these last writing workshop days that, yes, she has a talent for crafting beautiful writing.  She has gained confidence, at last, in her gifts.

Once the surveys have been collected, I put them away in a folder.  This is summer work, when I have had the chance to put some space between myself and the writing year that was.  It is productive, at that point, to go through each survey and highlight the insights my kids have so generously shared.  I compare their notes with my own to make some assessments about the teaching year ahead: what can I tweak? what do I need to address? what area of my teaching needs further research and growth? who should I turn to for advice and help?

After all, the sign posts for the year ahead are quite often to be found in the year just past.
Do you conduct end of the year surveys? Please share your thoughts and procedures in the comments.