When I first attended Penny Kittle’s class at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute, and really learned what authentic writing instruction looked like, I thought I had to do everything like she did. I remember even saying to her at one point, “I want to be you when I grow up.” She quickly said, “No, you want to be you.” What I heard was –“You want to be the best you.” I know that’s what she meant.
My biggest failure in trying to be Penny instead of myself was reading and giving feedback on students’ writing in their writer’s notebooks. I just could not keep up with the volume of it all. And the volume of writing was important. I knew that.
I also knew that volume serves its own purpose, and coaching writers to improve required a different focus that just getting students to write more. (When I first started workshop, I was really good at getting students to write more. I was lousy at helping them improve as writers.) When I made the conscious effort to provide better and more continual feedback, I started to see a change in myself as writing coach — and a change in my students’ writing ability and confidence.
I started a better rotation system of collecting student notebooks, and I worked on planning student activities that allowed for me to read and comment on at least part of a class stack during a class period while students worked on something independently or in small groups, so I wasn’t doing it during planning time or after school. And I limited my comments to this simple method:
- Two things that struck me about the writing (validating ideas, language, images…)
- One suggestion for taking the thinking further or some aspect of improvement.
This feedback method has worked for me for a long while now, and I use it on pretty much every draft of writing I read. Lately, I’ve been working on giving more feedforward than feedback, which I think will make an even better impact. For more on that, read this. (And maybe buy this book.)
I’d love to know how you manage giving feedback on your students’ writing. Please share in the comments.
Amy Rasmussen lives in North Texas where she’s been enjoying lots of rain. Lately, she’s spent a lot of time reading about becoming a better writer (See this and this) and trying to break through the wall of her writer’s block. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass