When I was a fifth grader, I wrote a story about characters stranded on a deserted island- likely inspired by reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” I enjoyed watching. Proud of this story, I waited to hear my teacher’s thoughts on it. She never offered them, so finally I asked. It has been over 28 years since that moment, but in my mind’s eye, she is standing by the blackboard and I recall her saying only, “It wasn’t your best.” Oh, how those four words stung! Why wasn’t it my best? What went wrong and how could I improve? My teacher offered me no other feedback or suggestions, no path to making my writing stronger. When I think about my school memories and specifically my memories about writing, this moment sadly stands out.
Feedback That Moves Writers Forward: How to Escape Correcting Mode To Transform Student Writing, written by Patty McGee, is a must-read for educators who know we can do far better for students than offering comments such as, “It wasn’t your best.” Red pen (or purple or green- the color doesn’t really matter as much as the marks it makes) corrections do not teach students how to grow as writers. Patty McGee writes, “Feedback that is clear, timely, and relevant to the writer is central to writing development” (7). Writing identity, growth mindset, and ownership and agency are central themes throughout the book. What stood out to me is the way McGee makes the case that teacher language about students as writers and student writing is one of the biggest factors in a student’s growth. In all the ways I’ve thought about writing and teaching writing, I have never thought about the tremendous influence my words, my tone, and my approach can have on my students perception of themselves as writers.
There are two parts in the book. Part 1 is entitled “Why Feedback Matters As Much As (Or More Than) The Lessons We Teach.” In this section, Chapter 1 explores what effective feedback is for writing instruction. Chapter 2 discusses how feedback and grading can co-exist. Chapter 3 shares the four fundamentals of feedback, which are: (1) Discover the writer’s identity, (2) Set the tone, (3) Use formative assessment, and (4) Deliver feedback that has the power of three. I loved the focus on building a writer’s identity because that is something I personally believe in and strive to cultivate in my students. McGee cites research and brings in growth mindset ideas as well as making the case that teachers should be writers as well. Part 2 is entitled, “Words and Ways to Transform Writers and Writing.” Chapter 4 shares the type of feedback we can offer when writers are stuck. Chapter 5 focuses on feedback for goal setting. Chapter 6 centers around providing feedback to support choice making. Chapter 7 connects all the previous chapters by looking at reflection as feedback for yourself.
Throughout the book, there are QR codes that link to video conferences. There are also online resources for many of the charts and forms found in the book. Several of these will become staples in my conferring toolkit, especially the Grammar and Choice Feedback Chart (199). The Iceberg Illusion, created by Sylvia Duckworth, showcases how the bulk of a writer’s work is under the surface. McGee calls this “underwater mindframes” and gives ideas on the language we can use with student writers to help them develop positive writing habits and attitudes. There are also charts for helping students elaborate in narrative, informational, and argument writing. These would be the perfect addition to your conferring toolkit, depending on the genre you are teaching.
If you’ve ever found yourself unsure of what to say in a conference, this is the book for you! McGee offers helpful language for teachers to use with writers in all situations. I was struck by how supportive and strategic the words she suggests were- tweaks in phrasing that will make all the difference. One such phrase, “Because you…you are ready for…” is wording I will use from now on. (“Because you structured your piece so carefully, you are ready to elaborate” (15).)
As I read Feedback That Moves Writers Forward, I wanted to capture my thinking to share with the Two Writing Teachers community. I’ve seen #BookSnaps on Twitter and was anxious to delve into this way of capturing my ideas with the text. I used SeeSaw to create my #BookSnaps for this thought-provoking book.
I’ve always believed that words have power, but Feedback That Moves Writers Forward made me realize that what I say, how I say it, when I say it and how I look while saying it influences my student writers more than I ever thought. Patty McGee has written a book that will challenge you to approach student writers in a whole new way, with the intent to help each student before us realize their writing identity. I highly recommend this as a book you read and discuss with colleagues because these are conversations we all need to be having. We don’t ever want our student writers to feel the way I did in 5th grade- stung, lost, and without any ideas on how to improve as a writer. We can- and must- do better for the students in our care. Thank you, Patty McGee, for writing a book that has the power to move all of us forward.
- This giveaway is for a copy of Feedback That Moves Writers Forward: How to Escape Correcting Mode to Transform Student Writing. Many thanks to Corwin for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy of Feedback that Moves Writers Forward, please leave a comment on this post by Friday, July 7th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Monday, July 10th.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Corwin will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
- If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – FEEDBACK. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.