Learning From Student Reflections
T.S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruelest month” but I think it is June. Here on Long Island, in New York, school ends on June 23. The days are sweltering, the paperwork endless, the kids are antsy and the teachers (well, at least this one) are full of emotions. Eager for summer, sad to say goodbye, proud of what we accomplished and frustrated by what we didn’t.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my year teaching third grade and the writing my students did. I had thoughts, opinions and ideas about what went right and where I still needed to make changes, refine my practice, be more strategic. Then, it dawned on me: I really need to ask my students what they think. What felt good in writing workshop this year? Did they grow? Do they consider themselves writers? Will they write this summer? Why not ask the very people who lived and breathed writing with me this year?
I created a Google Slide presentation which I imported into Pear Deck. Pear Deck is a way to make presentations more interactive. Students can respond right on their device (we used chromebooks) and I get to see all the results. A copy of what they wrote gets saved to their Google Drive.
One of the first questions I asked students in the presentation was, “Are you a writer?” One of my most important goals this year was to help students cultivate that identity and believe they can and should write. Out of 24 students who participated (1 was absent), 20 indicated a solid “YES” to that question. 3 seemed to put themselves somewhere in the middle, and 1 said “NO.” I wished I had asked this question midway through the year because it would have given me more time to help those students develop a stronger writing identity. Overall, I was pleased to see so many students consider themselves writers.
When I asked students their favorite part of writing this year, I was surprised that so many students said writing essays was their favorite thing! Several students wrote they like the opportunity to have “free writing” and a few mentioned blogging. Teaching third graders how to write essays is not easy and I was surprised that so many enjoyed it and even liked essay writing best.
I asked students to tell me how I could have helped them learn more as a writer. Some students said I could celebrate their accomplishments, let them share what they know, help them find ideas, and provide more examples. When I asked what students might choose to write over the summer, I was delighted that every person had an idea of something they could write! No one wrote they weren’t planning on writing this summer. Some of their summer ideas include creating books, writing about their lives, and working on their summer reading journal we recently created with Buncee. (#SummerSparks17 reading response journals).
In the presentation, I asked them to complete the sentence: “I am a writer who likes…who can…who doesn’t like.” Reading these responses was my favorite part of this reflective experience. I include some below:
Those students’ words were striking. To believe you are a writer who can write anywhere you go signaled transference to me- this student will take what she learned about writing and apply it across settings and experiences. The writer who was aware she needed time revealed a metacognitive understanding- she knows that she is the type of writer who needs ample time to get her words out the way she wants them to be. As a firm and passionate believer in teachers as writers, my heart leapt with joy at the last quote- a student who said my writing inspired him! This was a student who created a character and built a series around him, writing more than 20 books this school year. (Safe to say he’s inspired me, too.)
If this school year was a book, the final chapter is about to be written. My students’ thoughts and reflections on writing workshop will help me make instructional decisions and set personal goals for next year. Yesterday, Melanie Meehan wrote about the topic of student reflection, from the perspective of a coach who had data that showed a class of writers performed with excellence. The students reflected on why this might be so, creating charts and coming up with ideas about all the smart teaching that led to their success. This summer, I plan to reflect on my students’ ideas, read professional books and think about ways to better reach all my student writers. How do you use student reflection to help you plan for the next school year?