If you want to provide your students with the most meaningful feedback possible on their writing, you should ditch that pack of red pens in your desk drawer. You no longer need it. Chuck it right into the garbage.
Let’s be honest, how much a difference is made in the margin of a paper?
I should know. For years I spent my Sunday nights at the local Starbucks huddled over the week’s stack of essays. I would circle misspelled words, cliches, and sentence fragments. I’d underline words that should be capitalized. I’d draw arrows to the margins where I’d write comments like, “be more specific,” or write a big question mark for ideas that I didn’t understand.
I wasted a lot of hours and drank enough lattes to fill a small swimming pool.
Why was it wasted time, you ask?
The feedback I was providing fell short. It was not specific enough. For example, I would write positive comments like “great job” next to paragraphs that were well written but what was great about it? What was the student learning from my comment? When I would write “sentence fragment” the student did not know what was missing to make the thought complete. A subject? A predicate? Also, it was always one-way communication. The margins did not provide students with the chance to respond and engage in an extended conversation.
The Research on Student Feedback
Research shows that although feedback is among the major factors that influence student growth, the type of feedback and the way it is given determines its effectiveness.
Feedback is information with which a learner can confirm, add to, overwrite, tune, or restructure information into habit or memory.
It has to be done right, otherwise it’s a huge time suck that does little to move a writer further down the path of improvement and will ultimately frustrate a teacher.
Here’s what we know:
- It should be very specific
- It should be timely
- It should provide cues or reinforcement to learners
- It should relate to targeted goals
- It should be two-way communication, with the student having opportunity to respond
- It should be in the form of audio or computer-assisted feedback
How do you give very specific feedback related to targeted goals with cues and reinforcements when you only have a 1″ margin to work with?
The answer is, you don’t.
As Patty McGee writes in Feedback That Moves Writers Forward: How to Escape Correcting Mode to Transform Student Writing:
The first step in deciding how to spend the time you have is to first identify what you value in writing instruction and design your time so it reflects your values. Feedback won’t thrive unless we are clear on our overall beliefs, and have daily schedules, routines, and writing experiences that reflect these stances.
Here’s my first step:
One of my big goals this year is to hit all six research-backed tips revealed about feedback. It is something that I will journal about regularly in The Daily Teacher and I will experiment with the best way to provide feedback for my students. I have used Voxer in the past, but it’s not the only answer.
Apps for Student Feedback
I only reach for technology in the classroom if it is going to make a teaching practice easier or more effective. These three apps enable teachers to dig deep into conversations with students about their writing, allowing you to hit at all the points that research shows actually make a difference.
Voxer provides instant voice, making it simple for teachers to speak the feedback they provide to students anytime, anywhere. Speaking is 75% faster than typing or writing comments, allowing you to have a deeper, more detailed discussion with students about their writing.
How to Use It
I wrote about Voxer’s versatility a few years ago for Edutopia. I continue to use it and love it because of how simple it is. After reading a student’s essay, I just push a button and start talking. I am walking a student through my reading of their essay, providing specific feedback on sentences, paragraphs, and the essay as a whole. Much like a learned while teaching Public Speaking, there is a lot you can say in such a short amount of time.
With Voxer you can:
- Create chats with up to 500 individuals or team contacts.
- You can hear messages as people speak, or listen later at your convenience.
- Alongside voice, send text, photos, video, gifs, and share your location.
- Recall and delete any unwanted messages you have sent.
Remind is a free text messaging app that helps teachers, students, and parents communicate quickly and efficiently. Over 2.5 million teachers use it to communicate with their students. Most often, it is used to send reminders about due dates, homework assignments, and tests and quizzes, but Remind allows you to send photos, pdfs, and voice clips, making it a powerful feedback tool.
How to Use it
If you are like me, you see the same weaknesses in student writing over and over again. Instead of writing “clarify your topic sentence” 50 times on a stack of essays, you can use Remind to message your entire class and say, “hey guys, I noticed many of you are getting better at clarifying your topic sentences, but they can be made more specific. I’ll show you how in a 5-minute mini-lesson tomorrow.”
Getting started with Remind is easy. You can add a class from the website or the Remind app. It allows you to have up to 100 classes in your account and it works just like text messaging.
- Messages can be sent in real time to an entire class, a small group, or just a single person.
- Your phone number and your students’ numbers are blocked for privacy.
Kaizena makes it easy and efficient for teachers to give high-quality feedback. Its mission is to “empower students to improve skills through feedback from their peers and teachers.”
How to Use It
With Kaizena you can have a conversation with your students, talk to them about their work, track their progress by viewing and comparing their feedback history over multiple assignments, and get notified when students respond to your comments so that you can keep the feedback loop going.
You can use Kaizena to:
- Speak instead of type (voice comments help you to convey tone and emotion in your feedback).
- Stop repeating yourself (you can use one of its curated lessons to explain concepts or create your own).
- Track and rate skills (quickly communicating strengths and weaknesses).
- Integrate with Google Drive.
What has been your most meaningful method of providing feedback? Do you find the red pen effective? Have you used any of these apps to improve the quality of your feedback and help your students to become better writers?
I want you to share your experiences in the comments section below.
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