July. And I’m working. Who was it that said teachers take summers off?
I’m perusing the data I collected at the end of the school year regarding my students’ feedback about my class. It’s great information. I think I finally figured out how to collect data that really helps my planning for the following year.
In this post I’ll focus on the data I collected about writing. I will do two more posts regarding this set of data–one about reading and one about our use of digital tools. In these posts I’ll focus on the numbers I collected. There is so much more to unpack in the qualitative data I also collected (I asked students to “tell me more” about something they had just checked off in lists about the different kinds of things we had been doing in class and I asked them to recommend changes to me), but I’ll save that for some other writing I’m doing right now.
So I asked students what helped and didn’t help their growth as writers in my class. About 70 students completed this survey.
What helped your growth as a writer? (percent of students who said it helped)
- Doc Z’s written feedback on drafts: 96%
- the thorough revisions: 83%
- working in Google Docs: 69%
- setting my own deadlines: 58%
- time in class to write: 55%
- looking at Doc Z’s drafts on the big screen and giving her feedback: 55%
- one-on-one conferences with Doc Z: 52%
- writer’s memos: 47%
- studying examples of the kind of writing we were doing: 47%
- tracking your growth toward super standards you selected: 28%
- writing in your blog: 23%
- writer’s notebook: 18%
- giving feedback to peers on their drafts: 18%
- getting feedback from peers on drafts: 17%
- your response group: 17%
- reading other people’s blog posts: 13%
- responding to other people’s blog posts: 6%
I’m thrilled that so many students said that my feedback to them on their drafts helped them grow as writers. That’s what it’s all about. And even though the thorough revision task is challenging and sometimes onerous according to my students’ comments to me throughout the year, look at that. Most of them credited it as having helped them grow as writers (and only 4% of them said it didn’t help them grow as writers, as you’ll see in the next list of results).
Very interesting that the next most helpful thing was working in Google Docs on their writing. I have always believed that this one digital tool completely changes how we can teach writing. Revision history shows the evolution of a piece of writing from the very first words a writer puts on the page. The collaborative nature of it with the comments in the margins–so powerful. And we love “suggesting mode.” Like track changes in Word, this makes clear the changes writers make to a piece of writing. My students work in suggesting mode when they revise and it helps me tremendously to hone in on exactly what they are working on in a piece of writing. I can work much more efficiently as I respond to their work, again and again and again (that’s what happens with the thorough revision process).
The next chunk of results show things we did in class that roughly half of my students said helped them grow as writers: setting their own deadlines, time to write in class, looking at my drafts on the big screen, conferences with me, reflective writer’s memos on every draft, and looking at examples of the type of writing we’re doing. I think these things are important, and this tells me that a lot of my students see them as important too but maybe we could be doing them more effectively. Maybe I wan’t able to do writing conferences as frequently as I could for example. I should do more (especially since only 1% of the students said these conferences DIDN’T help them grow as writers).
It’s the last section of results that really give me some things to think about. Blogs, writer’s notebooks, peer response groups… these were not frequently identified as things that helped my students grow as writers. And as you’ll see in the list below, they were the most frequent things indicated for NOT helping my students grow as writers.
So what to do? Do I jettison the blog work totally? Maybe. Or maybe I just re-think it. The bulk of the blog work last year was in the form of blog carnivals. These were opportunities for student hosts to choose writing topics and make calls for submissions for their classmates. They loved this. I never had to beg for volunteer blog carnival hosts. Their topics were awesome and drew on their lives in meaningful ways. Students seemed to enjoy blog carnival days but they did not see the blog work as something that helped them grow as writers. I had already thought about this. Because the blog carnivals were separate from the other work we were doing in class, I wondered if they were really worth our time. Students liked them and they helped build community but why would I spend time in class doing anything but support my students to grow as writers and readers? I don’t think the answer is to jettison blogs, but I will jettison the blog carnival. I want to re-see the role of blogs in my class. These can be a more public sharing space for students, to share with someone besides me the awesome work they are doing. I envision blog days once a month or so, and students will post in their blogs something from their current work–a freewrite from the writer’s notebook, a portion of a draft they’re working on, thoughts about their reading–and we’ll gather and read and respond. At least maybe we’ll try this first semester and see how it goes.
Writer’s notebooks. I know I’ve not been putting as much emphasis on these as I can. Whereas only 18% of my students said they helped them grow as writers, only 30% indicated that the were NOT helpful at all. I’d like that number to be smaller, but I don’t think it’s a mandate to get rid of writer’s notebooks. I’ve already been thinking of ways to integrate them more in what we do in class, to talk about how it’s going using them more frequently and let students share ideas with each other about how to make them a useful tool for class. I never collect them from students–in years past when I have, I find they use them inauthentically because of the presence of my eyes on them. I observe how they are using them in class and at times ask them to show me something in the writer’s notebook. Or we’ll use a student’s writer’s notebook together during a writing conference as we brainstorm an approach to a piece of writing. I’ve had them do self-assessments in the past to let me know how the notebooks are going. But I didn’t do that much of this last year. I did have a few students tell me in their end-of-year letter that the goals they set at the beginning of the year to write daily were awesome for them, and they did it. I think more goal-setting conversations, more student reflection about how they’re going, more intention around them. I know they can become indispensable to writers–as they were to some of my students. I just need to cultivate more of this.
And the last piece there in the results–all things connected to peer response groups. They didn’t see much value in the feedback they gave and received from their peers on their writing and by having a peer response group at all. This is my fault. I know how to set up intentional peer response groups. I do this in my creative writing class every year–through a combination of whole-class getting-to-know-you activities and a student survey about who they are as readers and writers where the results are public to the whole class, students make requests for who they want in their response groups and I weave them together based on those requests. And then we work on those groups getting to know one another. It takes time–time I’ve blocked out in creative writing but not with my seniors. I need to change that. I know that these mini writing communities are important–I just need to prove that to my students.
What didn’t help your growth as a writer? (percent of students who said it didn’t help)
- responding to other people’s blog posts: 52%
- getting feedback from peers on drafts: 49%
- reading other people’s blog posts: 48%
- your response group: 47%
- writing in your blog: 35%
- writer’s notebook: 30%
- giving feedback to peers on their drafts: 27%
- tracking your growth toward standards you selected: 25%
- writer’s memos: 18%
- setting my own deadlines: 17%
- time in class to write: 10%
- studying examples of the kind of writing we were doing: 9%
- looking at Doc Z’s drafts on the big screen and giving her feedback: 6%
- the thorough revisions: 4%
- working in Google Docs: 1%
- one-on-one conferences with Doc Z: 1%
- Doc Z’s written feedback on drafts: 0%
Again, I see here that my written feedback on their drafts is working. Not even one of them marked that is not helpful toward their growth as writers. That’s a mandate to keep doing that on their drafts, in response to their revisions, all of it. Blog posts, peer feedback, response groups–again the results here tell me something is not working. If around half of my students say these things did not help them grow as writers, then I need to stop doing them or completely change how I am doing them. I reflected on this above.
One thing I’ve not talked about is what my students said about tracking their own growth toward writing standards they self-selected. I wrote an earlier post about the standards they did select to guide their work. But a quarter of them said that this did not help their growth as writers and just over a quarter of them said it did, leaving half of them somewhat ambivalent toward whether or not this helped them grow as writers? This piece is part of much bigger conversation about not grading my students’ work in order to get them focused on the work rather than the grade. (If you’re curious to read more about this, I’ve written several posts about my journey to going gradeless.) But this tells me I’ve got more work to do around this piece. My department has put together a standards-based portfolio for use with ALL of our students starting in 9th grade. I’m excited about this because it puts the standards in front of our students and communicates to them that it’s their job to build a body of evidence to show what they’ve learned. We tried to keep the portfolio simple so students would be able to use it without much instruction, but it will definitely fall to each teacher in each year to direct them on how to use it most effectively. So I’m thinking about this. What kinds of posts will be meaningful for them to do? How often? How is this different from the blog? Lots to think about here. I’ll write more in my upcoming post about my students’ feedback on the digital tools we used this past year.
What have you used to get feedback on how you encouraged your students’ growth as writers? What changes will you make for next year?