“Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.
five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure,
Measure a year?”
Ah.. the opening lines of “Season of Love.” Go on, take a minute, and listen to it here. (Hi, young, pre-Frozen Idina Menzel! You’re amazing!) These lines -especially the “spoons of coffee”- have become so cliche, so tired, so parodied. Yet, even knowing all of that, those opening chords still tug at my heart. And I still find a little (ok, a lottle) truth and joy in the question the song poses: how do we measure a year?
For a teacher, of course, the question of why we measure anything is obvious: we need to know where we are so we know how far we need to go, where we need to go. So, the why is easy – we want our students to leave our classrooms as better readers, writers and thinkers, comfortable “playing” with ideas and using their own voices. However, the question of how we measure a year is a powerful one and, maybe, a more difficult one. How do we measure our successes? How do we measure our students’ growth as learners? How do we know that we’re making progress? How do we know what steps to take next?
For me, the answer came in combining some National Writing Project best practices ideas with my love of Google Forms/Sheets. The result? Each week students are asked to use Google Forms to answer three questions based on a modified version of the writing project model of bless, press, address (BPA).
Now, BPA was originally meant to guide students in asking for and giving advice when reading their peers’ writing. So, directions for BPA would like this in class:
Do you want your piece BLESSED, ADDRESSED, or PRESSED?
o Bless: If you want your piece blessed, you’re not ready to hear criticism yet (however constructive it might be). You want only to hear about what’s working so far.
o Address: If you have chosen the address option, what one problem or concern do you want your readers/audience to address? Be as specific as possible.
o Press: You’re ready to hear constructive criticism and give the readers/audience the freedom to respond in any fashion. This, of course, can include “Bless” and “Address.”
However, I thought the questions would work well as a weekly thermometer of where my classes are, So I modified them to look like this:
- What are your positives from this week? (Bless)
- What concerns do you have about the ideas/skills we covered this week? (Address)
- Is there anything else I need to know? (Press)
Here’s what this looks like in my class. Every Friday I ask students to fill out the form (see what it looks like here). Google Forms automatically collates the data into a spreadsheet, and then a code I created allows me to email all 116 students about their responses individually from the spreadsheet. Easy, peasy, right?
The way this simple give and take has changed my classroom has been astonishing.
For example, here’s a response from a shy student:
|Positive||Concern||Anything Else?||My Response|
|I greatly enjoyed discussing a modest proposal in class and learning and discussing satires.||I don’t think there is anything specific I need help with.||I really enjoy satires, considering I am very sarcastic in all aspects of my life.||Awesome. Keep up the good work. I appreciate you volunteering multiple times in class; I know that’s been a struggle this year.|
This feedback allowed me to compliment a student who wouldn’t contribute to class discussions at the beginning of the year for contributing multiple times this week. Our entire conversation about her participation nerves and my suggestions happened via email. And, honestly, that reinforcement might never have happened in our day to day interactions in class. We would have wasted time frustrated with each other: I would have been frustrated that she wasn’t participating, she would have been frustrated because she wanted to participate but didn’t know how, and neither of us would have grown or moved forward.
The form also helps me adapt lesson plans to students’ needs more thoroughly. For example, here’s some feedback from last week’s in class timed practice:
I need more practice connecting my sources in a timed synthesis writing because my essay felt very choppy when moving between sources.
Not necessarily with this. I just need to work on doing everything quickly. I’m always running out of time.
I don’t think I need help with that, I just need to pay attention to the clock more.
Even though we talked about framing our evidence with our own voice, I struggled including warrant to frame the evidence in the synthesis due to the time limit. I know the warrant and “so what” of a claim are typically the most important parts and I know how to include them but I just never have the time so I tend to just skim a topic and move on so I can address all my points. What other part of my paper would be the best to shorten to leave time for warrant?
This feedback tells me that I need to spend a little time next week emphasizing the value of brainstorming before a timed write.
And what do the students think of the process? Here are a few thoughts:
It’s nice to have an easy way to regularly discuss the issues as well as the positives with a teacher. Not often to teachers inquire about the good things the class is doing for you and your successes. I also enjoy hearing back from a teacher and feeling like my opinions and concerns are heard 🙂
Also, I think especially in an environment like Central, students (myself included) are nervous to say they don’t understand things in class because they don’t want to look stupid, but weekly feedback makes it easier to get help.
Some weeks, it doesn’t seem all that helpful, but others it helps me keep track of all that we have done in that week and keep track of what I need to focus on. It isn’t hard.
It’s an interesting system. I’m running for governor for this upcoming YIG conference, and we’ve discussed about implementing a system that is quite similar statewide to streamline teacher-student feedback in attempt to improve K-12 education so each individual teacher can cater to his/her classes’ specific needs. I think it works pretty good and there’s not really much of a negative from the student standpoint.
So, how do I measure a year? In emails, and google forms, and excel spreadsheets. My version isn’t quite as catchy as the RENT version, to be honest. But this weekly format works for me; it’s how I measure my year. I value the conversations it starts, the way it allows my classroom to extend beyond the school hours, the relationships it deepens, and how it informs my practice. What works for you?
Sarah Morris teaches AP Language & Composition and Film as Literature in Murfreesboro, Tn. Born with a reading list of books she’ll never finish, she tries to read new texts but often finds herself revisiting old favorites: Name of the Wind, The Stand, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. She tweets at @marahsorris_cms.