Quickly, think about three things you enjoy most about teaching. I’ll wait. Got all three? While I can’t be certain, I’d make a bet that one of those top three had something to do with engaging and interacting with students. Now, consider two aspects of your job that you enjoy the least. These probably came to you rather quickly. If one wasn’t the constant barrage of emails, I’d wager that one was almost certainly marking.
I love my job, I really do. There are so many things about being a teacher that are intrinsically motivating, yet when it comes to marking, I lack this same enthusiasm. Marking eats up our family time, is seemingly never ending, is often unused by students, and is, generally, a major stress producer. With that said, marking, and feedback by extension, are necessary parts of our jobs and can’t simply be done away with.
And so, I wanted to find a way to make this process both more efficient with respect to my time and more effective for students. I’ve mention Caitlin Tucker before. If you’ve never read her blogs, you’re genuinely missing out. In a nutshell, she is an insightful EduCelebrity who implements new age pedagogical practices in order to engage her 21st-century learners.
In her writing, she references such topics as going gradeless, alternative assessment, classroom management, the Station Rotation model, and, of course, feedback. When I first came across her blog regarding the latter topic I was a little skeptical to say the least. The work in question stated how, after becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of marking she had on a weekly basis, Tucker vowed to no longer take any marking home. Her New Year’s resolution, however, didn’t end there. She also decided to give feedback to students during the writing process rather than after.
Naturally, I was interested in her method; “you mean you no longer take any marking home!” But, needless to say, I had several questions; is feedback still provide afterwards? If so, is that simply doubling the work? If not, how would one accurately assess the work? Moreover, is a final grade provided? If so, what evidence is used to support that grade? If not, what goes on the final submission once it’s been reviewed? Finally, I already provide feedback to students during the writing process, so how is this different? And, perhaps most importantly, what do students think about this process? I told you I had a few questions about the process!
It took me some time to wrap my head around an intuitive change that flew in the face of a, and perhaps the, systematic educational approach. The more I thought about it, the more this process made sense to me. If there is value in providing feedback after, does it not stand to reason that the feedback would be more valuable before? Further, if students receive feedback afterwards, what then can they do with it unless the same assignment is being written again? Perhaps an idea that struck me most was the fact that, even if students receive feedback the very next day, that feedback is still too late for them to use it in a meaningful way.
As such, the problems of timing and actionability lead me to consider implementing Tucker’s strategy in my grade 12 English class. Before I did, I had a conversation with a couple of different students to get their insight into the methodology. Not only were they open to the idea, they welcomed the change as I assured them that it would allow them to use my feedback in order to influence their final mark. Once I, like Tucker, vowed to make this change, I discussed this shift with the class as a whole.
I was open with them about the rationale behind the change, and I told them that this approach would be new for me too; I explained that there might be some hiccups, and I assured them that we would be learning together. Sometimes, teaching is about modelling your own risks rather than your mastery. Upon doing so, I explained the process that I would be using. I would share an already created Google Doc with them through Google Classroom and would then open up that document as students wrote and would provide feedback directly on their assignments as I sat next to them.
The classes where I applied this approach where genuinely fun and engaging. Moreover, I worked harder than I ever had in any previous “work period”. As I sat with students, I would provide comments, just as I normally would, but have conversations about the comments I was offering. Further, students would ask me questions about the feedback which would lead to genuine moments of insight. Many times, I was “in the weeds” with students, trying to tease out their ideas with them. As an English teacher, I love these moments. They’re hard, engaging, messy, fun, and, most importantly, genuine moments of learning.
When it came time to actually mark the assignments, which I now term “assess”, I reminded students that I would not be providing feedback a second time because I had already done so once. There were no complaints or quarrels. During the assessing process, I had to hold myself back on multiple occasions from inserting a comment. After a few assignments though, I was actually able to just enjoy reading the works as a whole rather than focusing on the minute details. Once I finished reading, I provided a general comment about their strengths and next steps, offered an initial rating (I provide ratings rather grades) and then moved on.
This process was more efficient for me as a teacher, as I was able to provide feedback during class which meant far less time “marking”, and more effective for them as students, as they were able to immediately act upon the feedback I provided. Further, I actually worked harder during the lessons wherein I was giving the feedback. I don’t know if this method will ever take marking out of my bottmoTucker has me sold; feedback during the submission is the way we need to go!
Follow and tweet @Bjeblack to share how feedback before the submission would change your marking practices!