I tend to fixate on feedback.
It is feedback that gets writers writing.
It is feedback that keeps writers writing.
And it is feedback that leads to measurable growth in the skills and processes of writers in writing workshop.
In this topsy-turvy year, when I was not expecting to teach a remote kindergarten class, I was also not expecting to discover strategies for upping my feedback game with writers—strategies that I plan to continue using once the world has righted itself and workshop is in-person again.
What has worked well remotely?
Using a Learning Management System (LMS) for students to share their work and for me to respond digitally has been a game changer this year. In my district, we use SeeSaw in grades K-2. It has been easy for even our youngest writers to upload photos, audio, and video of themselves reading and showing their work.
After seeing a few models, kids quickly learned how to film themselves so the pages of their books are clear and easy for others to read. Because I frequently use these videos in minilessons as mentor texts, kids talk right to the camera—their authentic audience. They begin with, “Hi, Ms. Ellerman!” or “Hi, Friends!”
I leave written comments and/or audio comments on each piece. Because I am crafting this feedback when I am not live with kids (after school, in between live lessons, etc.), I have the luxury of taking my time to be thoughtful with feedback, rewatching videos if necessary.
There are none of the distractions that might split my focus while conferring in a live workshop. I don’t feel the same pressure around time, the need to choose quickly what that one most impactful teaching point should be. I’ve been able to hone my language—something I’m always trying to do—so that the feedback I’m offering is supporting writers in becoming increasingly purposeful in their decision making.
Bonus: This feedback then becomes a model for how writers might comment on their peers’ work as well as for family members supporting workshop at home.
Because my kindergartners are remote, I know their families are there with them as they receive the feedback. This secondary audience is always in the back of my mind. I’ve written this year about the gift of having families within earshot of our teaching while we’re remote, how this is an opportunity for teachers and family members to communicate more clearly about writers’ strengths and next steps.
Over the course of the year, writers have built digital portfolios. I appreciate being able to go back and revisit past work, finding artifacts that illustrate how much growth writers are making.
At first, I worried that writers would be less engaged with feedback that was not “in real time,” but that has not been the case. Kids are excited to get written and audio feedback. When we’re in live lessons, they’ll let me know, “Ms. Ellerman, I shared my story with you in SeeSaw!” If they have to wait too long for feedback, they let me know that, too. . . This communicates to me that feedback matters to them as writers.
How might this look moving forward?
Every workshop teacher knows the frustration of not having enough time to confer with writers. As efficient as we are, as many tips as we accumulate to get increasingly strategic with one-on-one conferences and small group conferring, there is never enough time.
When I think about returning to an in-person writing workshop, I anticipate launching side-by-side conferring alongside a regular system for online sharing/feedback. Imagine how many more students I will be able to confer with over the course of a week if it does not all need to happen during writing workshop time! If my goal is timely feedback, then layering in a virtual sharing and feedback routine becomes my time-turner, to borrow a metaphorical tool from Hermione Granger.
I’m envisioning something as simple as: Please share your writing with me at least once a week on SeeSaw. I could get more specific, assigning kids on different days of the week to spread out the feedback load. I could use SeeSaw as a tool for gathering formative assessment data (e.g. This week, please share a place in your writing where you tried [insert craft technique here]).
Or. . . I could invite students to share when they recognize that feedback would support them as a writer in that moment.
For example, an older writer might share an excerpt of their work with a question, such as: “I’m wondering if I’ve added enough details about the setting for a reader to be able to visualize the inside of the castle,” or “I’ve added some internal monologue during the part of my narrative I’m trying to slow down—do you think it’s working yet?” Imagine the potential for growth when a writer has an avenue to ask questions like this in the moment they most need that feedback.
Alternately, imagine that student (we all have) who will cheerfully sit “waiting for a conference,” wasting precious workshop minutes. How powerful to be able to say, “I can’t wait to hear where you are in your piece and what you’re thinking about—leave me a post in SeeSaw with the kind of feedback you’re looking for, and I’ll make sure to get back to you after school. In the meantime, you can jump back into writing.”
A huge data point for me around a learner’s level of agency is when/if and how they seek feedback.
- How might leveraging a tech tool such as SeeSaw or Google Classroom create a feedback channel to support (and encourage) writers to seek feedback?
- How might this channel provide teachers with valuable information around which writers are actively seeking feedback (and the types of feedback they are seeking) as well as which writers might need support in developing greater agency?
A writer content to patiently wait their turn in a class of 20+ is a writer I worry about. . .
There are many systems for organizing conferring in a classroom, and I would certainly never suggest that there is one right way. However, a question I’ve thought about a lot this year, and might ask others, would be to consider whether your system for organizing conferring is entirely (or mostly) teacher-directed (i.e. it is the adult who decides when it is time for a conference based on the adult’s schedule/routine), or if there is a routine in place that invites writers to seek feedback when they need it. This might be a sign up (digital or on the board), a visual signal (flag on top of the desk), or a message (email, zoom, chat). In most workshops, I would imagine, it is a combination of the two.
Structures within a workshop that invite reflection and the pursuit of writing goals provide a window into a writer’s agency. This is feedback for me! And the more I understand about a student’s level of agency, the more responsive I can be.
There is an important distinction to be made between writers who constantly seek help/reassurance and writers who seek feedback. An essential goal of workshop is to develop writers who demonstrate independence and agency. A writer with agency and independence understands the power of feedback, seeking it out strategically in those moments when that writer is wondering, “Is this working? Am I getting closer to meeting my goal(s)?” The writer with agency is looking for descriptive feedback to help them calibrate the measurement of their own growth.
That motivation is quite different from the student requesting a daily conference to ask, “Is this right?” or “I just want to show you.” This writer is looking for evaluative feedback (e.g. “Good job,” “Way to go,” “Yes, that’s right.”).
A writer will rise to the level of language and actions expected of them—Katie Wood Ray taught me that—so for a writer seeking constant evaluative feedback, I model with questions like:
- “What kind of feedback would be most helpful for you as a writer today?”
- “Which part of your writing are you wondering about? What are you wondering?”
- “Tell me about what you’re trying to do here as a writer, and I’ll let you know what I’m noticing as your reader.”
This writer needs additional scaffolding around what to ask, as well as an understanding of who will be doing the thinking work in a conference (Hint: it’s them!).
Once a writer has experience asking for and then receiving feedback that has a measurable impact on them as a writer, a shift begins to happen. Over time, this writer will develop and demonstrate greater agency and independence.
Imagine how much more quickly this shift will happen in a workshop with structures and routines for asking for and receiving feedback both in side-by-side conferences as well as through the leveraging of technology. . .
It’s a win all around.
- This giveaway is for a copy of The Responsive Writing Teacher. Many thanks to Corwin Literacy for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy of The Responsive Writing Teacher, please leave a comment about this post by Saturday, May 8th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Kathleen Sokolowski will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose names she will announce at the bottom of the ICYMI post on Monday, May10th. NOTE: You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway.
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