Monday, February 29, 2016

Meaningful Feedback

     A few years ago I learned about the art of feedback. I  was getting my masters online and would submit a plethora of written work. It's at this time I came to understand the value of great feedback and realized how woefully inadequate I am in this area. How can teachers do a better job of giving feedback? How, indeed.
     Teens look forward to hearing how they did on a paper. They covet feedback and positive reinforcement. Who doesn't? During my time as a masters student, I looked for the same thing--meaningful feedback. I had one professor who was a genius in this area. Almost daily I think of her and how well she gave feedback. Then I look at my own feeble attempts at it and grimace.
     I can't speak for any other discipline, but in English, feedback is crucial. My students write--a lot--and if my expectation is for them to improve, their expectation is for me to give valuable feedback. I confess, sometimes I get pressed for time and instead of something meaningful, I go for the standard "nice job" or "good work" or "well written." Just as I'd never let those phrases get by without more explanation from my students, I know I need to expand on them as well.
     Here are a few things I've learned in my quest to improve my feedback to students:
     1. For feedback to be meaningful, it needs to be timely. Students have the topic on the brain and want to improve their work, but they need feedback from teachers. My credo is if it's important enough for me to assign, it's important enough for me to grade in a reasonable time frame. I'm not doing my students any favors if I procrastinate reviewing their papers. More often than not, any passion they may have had for the topic wanes if I take too long in getting it back to them.
    2. For feedback to be meaningful, it needs to be specific. I'm trying to eliminate the "nice work" and "good job" comments, replacing them with thoughtful insights about their writing. This may sound easy but it's one of the hardest things I've done as a teacher. The more specific the feedback, the more knowledgeable the student about what exactly needs to be addressed. It's easy to find the errors, but making comments about the good is just as important. Students need to see what they've done right and continue to strive toward achieving that in subsequent work.
    3. For feedback to be meaningful, it needs to be honest but encouraging. When it comes to this type of writing, some people are masters. They easily weave critique in with praise, finding good in everything as well as pointing out the weaknesses. Some may be honest but leave out the encouraging part. No one wants their work shredded without any positive comments. A colleague of mine is Mr. Positive. He finds good in every situation and every piece of writing. He's a great example to follow, and I find myself asking what type of feedback he'd give a particular work if he were reading it. This has helped me to look for more positives in my students' work which benefits everyone.
     4. For feedback to be meaningful, it needs to be genuine. Students can spot fluff and almost resent seeing it on their work. For as much time as it takes to type or write something, make your words be heartfelt and genuine. Teens are adept at knowing when teachers are blowing smoke and when they are sincere. Make your comments count.
    5. For feedback to be meaningful, it needs to be personal. I try to encourage my students by noting their improvements from past assignments. Specific improvements. This takes time as sometimes I need to refresh my memory and revisit their work, going back, sometimes, to the beginning of the class. When I can personalize the feedback and note growth by referencing a prior work, students take what I say more to heart. They realize they aren't getting a "canned" teacher response but one that has thought put into it. Students respond to teacher effort.
    I've not come close to mastering the art of feedback, but I strive toward that goal. Eliminating my own canned responses is a step. I've come to realize that the more effort I put into giving quality feedback, the more effort my students give me. And that can make all the difference.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Top Edtech Sites

     I love technology. Really, I do. But learning new applications intimidates me. I never feel as though I have enough time to actually learn them well. The nuances. The subtleties. The shortcuts. The result? I know many applications but know them poorly. So what are apps I use consistently and know the best? Not many, that's for sure. Here are my top five.
     1. Google Drive/Docs. Daily. Hour by hour, minute by minute. I'm constantly on Google Drive/Docs helping students with papers. This is by far my most comfortable application and the one I know the best. The functionality of it in the classroom is unsurpassed, in my estimation. Being able to communicate with students, answer their questions that they are shy asking in person, giving feedback, encouraging students to keep improving--all this is possible and more with Google Drive/Docs.
     2. Remind. I use this application weekly, sometimes more, sending out short missive to parents about things going on in school. Things with which they can talk to their teens. Fodder for conversations. I had a student ask me the other day why I sent his mom text messages. I asked him why not? He had no answer except to tell me that all his mom did with the information was want to talk to him about it. Heavens, that can't be good, right? I think if more parents and teens communicated, there would be far fewer problems in the classroom.
    3.  Screencast-o-matic. I may not use this weekly, but I am a frequent user of this application. Why do I like it so much? Because it's quick and easy to use, students quickly pick it up, and it allows me to expand on concepts that students can watch if I'm too busy with other students to help someone when needed. This way, my students know to check out my website to see if there are any video explanations for their current question. I can upload videos to youtube.com and link them directly to my website. Easy peasy, all the way around. This win-win situation is appreciated by the teens as they don't always want to ask for help.
    4. Google Sites.  This should probably be much higher on my list as it's a tool used daily in my classroom. Suffice it to say I may spend a few minutes each week tweaking content on my site, but it's one of the best investments of my time. It allows more independence on the student's part and gives them a feeling of autonomy that I believe is healthy for students to develop. Making them teacher dependent doesn't do anyone any favors. This dependence won't benefit them in college, at all.
    5. Easel.ly and Booksource Organizer. I probably access booksource organizer more often as it's the app I use to manage my classroom library, but my students probably use esael.ly more to generate infographics. This is one of those programs I wrote about above--I know it but I don't really know it. However, I have found students to be engaged, thinking and learning when doing an infographic.

     So there it is, the list of my top five used apps. I use other extensions and such from Google daily, but in this post I focused on larger apps that impacted the most. I do love technology. And learning new applications. If only I had more time. That could make all the difference
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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Teaching Changes

    As I continue to make my way through @teachthought's reflective questions, I find myself wondering the answer to this question myself. How do I envision my teaching changing in the next five years? How do I, indeed?
    My initial reaction to this question is that I improve, but that's not the answer. HOW will the change occur? I think it comes down to two words--risk taking. If I'm not willing to experiment, fail, and learn, I'm not sure I should be teaching. Sound like a harsh assessment? Maybe it is, but I do believe it. Does that mean everything I've done in the past that has been successful I need to scrap? I don't think that's the case. Maybe it's more of an attitude, a willingness to be flexible and try out new concepts not knowing how successful these implemented ideas will be.
     What do I hope my teaching is like in five years? Perhaps more deliberate than now, but still open to change. My desire is to be as innovative as possible, engaging as many students as possible, in the best learning environment possible. Is this possible? I think it is.
     Do teachers consciously think about where they'd like to be in five years? Do they set personal and professional goals? Should that be part of the evaluation process? How important is it for teacher's to look ahead and storyboard out their career?
     Time will tell what my teaching is like in five years. However, if I know anything about myself it's this: My teaching won't look the same as it does now. And that will make all the difference.