Finding success with my goal

Last week I was on a boat to Nova Scotia (those things exist on the east coast), heading over for a robotics competition. Knowing I would have 2.5 hours each way of boat time, and knowing I have sea legs, I decided to bring the pile of marking that I really did need to attend to promptly. As I was marking the lab reports the normal reactions didn’t happen (science teachers, you know what I mean: the wincing at poor unit choices, the faces as you work out the spelling, the cringing at the absent materials from the list). THEY. DID NOT HAPPEN. Instead, I was grabbing my phone and taking photos to send to my department head, I was so proud I was showing my accompanying teacher – who was happy for me but didn’t really get it.

You see – students submitted their first lab report about 3 weeks ago. I started to mark it and most students were getting 1/2 on our 7 point scale. They were sloppy and rushed. Students were missing big pieces. I decided that marking it and giving feedback would be not worth my time. Not because students don’t deserve feedback, but because I felt with this group of kids, if they saw the 1/2 they would not care what I wrote, they would fall into despair (actually) and believe they could not do science. This would not do.

Enter – everything I learned at Cohort21 the last F2F. I decided that now was as good a time as any to do peer-to-peer feedback and introduced the concept to them. I went over the rubric with them and posted a hasty lab report that I had created and we spoke about helpful feedback and how to give it. I had students trade papers and grade each other’s papers, offering helpful feedback as part of the process. In order to sweeten the deal, I also told students I was going to mark their feedback (now everyone wanted to give the best feedback).

The students had a week to digest their feedback from their peers and make edits to their lab report prior to handing it in. They also handed in all the original peer to peer feedback rubrics. Looking through the rubrics, I read the feedback and for the most part, it was genuine and helpful. I also checked the lab papers. Did student A accept any feedback from student B. They didn’t’ have to accept it all, but did they look at it and find bits they could use? It was a resounding YES!

On the boat, when I was marking, almost all my students were earning a 5/6 on the lab report. These are labs that the students had designed themselves, within a set of parameters. They had all made hypothesis and materials/methods before I would approve of their lab. These were put in their original lab book. The lab report I asked for was more formal and most students didn’t bother to go back to their notes. After the peer to peer feedback, they did.

I don’t think long term I am going to offer to “grade” their feedback, but I think I am always going to want to see it. I think of the grading in the short term is similar to stickers and a prize when potty training. I want them to do it and do it well so they learn how to do it properly and independently. I want this to become something intrinsic – I wrote a lab report and I should have a friend look it over and mark it before I hand it in, or I should mark it myself against the rubric.

Here’s to the lady dancing and cheering on the boat marking a set of papers.