Tag Archives: feedback protocol

4 Ways to Get Kids Talking…To Each Other

af115350d91f58bfb8c402b3b6159935--changes-in-life-quotes-change-your-life-quotes.jpgToday is a day worth talking about.

For one, it’s been 16 years since the Twin Towers fell. Sixteen years.

For two, much of Florida is waking up to the terror of Hurricane Irma, probably in the dark, without power–but not without hope. And Texas is still recovering from Harvey’s rage. But they’re Texas, so they’re tough.

Days like today should never become routine. And these are the things we should be talking about in our English classrooms. But to have the heavy talks, of course, we need to be able to listen.

“English teachers have rare opportunities to get to the deep, real work of an education,” Mitch Nobis writes. Yes, we do.

We have a multitude of opportunities for important, valuable, world-changing talk to happen in our schools. Before these kinds of conversations can happen, we need to be comfortable being vulnerable, truly listening to one another, and confidently articulating our thoughts–and then revising them.

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We make time for talk in my college classroom every day

Reasons like these are why I make talk a priority in my classroom every day. In such a digital world, it’s not as easy to get kids making noise as it used to be. Where early in my teaching career I had to work to settle down a chatty room, now I have to exhort myself to hear the sweet sounds of uncertain arguments and not the click of a quickly-locked iPhone.

Like all other skills we want our students to master, thoughtful speaking and listening is something we must teach. Rather than being frustrated by our students’ silence, we need strategies for helping kids close their apps and open their hearts and minds to one another. Here are four of the most effective I’ve used this year:

img_2223.pngQuickwrites that make us vulnerable – Getting to the heart of our wonders and fears and hopes and dreams in our writer’s notebooks builds community, sets a precedent for the type of writing we’ll be doing, and gets down on paper what’s really important: who we are, and how hard it can be to say that definitively. Strong mentor texts that invite this vulnerability are essential–imitating Mari Andrew’s illustrations is a great place to start. Writing about our scars is another favorite early-year activity. These first pages in notebooks don’t often get shared, but they get kids to do the early scaffolding work of honest thinking that leads to honest talk.

Turn and talk and LISTEN – The “turn and talk” directive is a common one in ELA classrooms, I hope, but I kind of want to change it to “look at your partner and LISTEN.” I tell students before a turn and talk that we’ll be sharing what we hear, so the purpose shifts from drafting their thinking through talk to expanding their understanding through listening. After the chatter has subsided, I ask students, “Who heard something great? Share with us what you learned from your partner.” This is a subtle shift, but one that cues students to turn their ears away from their own voices and toward their peers’.

On the record strategyWritten feedback is amazing, but if I’ve learned anything from doing a million reading and writing conferences over the years, it’s that the power of talking with someone about your thinking is incredible. For this reason, when I ask students to conduct peer writing conferences, I ask them to record themselves. Using apps on their phones, kids begin this practice by simply talking about the student’s writing they’re reading, but gradually progress to leaving one another specific, recorded feedback to be replayed at home. While “on the record,” I find that students become much more deliberate, thoughtful, and thorough in their feedback by simply slowing down their thinking.

Silent discussion – An early mentor of mine used this strategy to scaffold his students up to sophisticated Socratic seminars, and I still love using it. Students bring in a written response to a question, or a draft of a piece we’re working on, or a favorite quote from their independent reading book they want to mine. We hang these nameless papers all around the classroom, then kids get their earbuds, a stack of post-its, and a pen and progress into a silent discussion. The classroom is magically quiet–almost sacred. This is my favorite part.

First, they circle the classroom, writing lengthy responses to their peers’ thinking on large post-its. Each student receives two responses this way. Then, we do a counter-clockwise circle with small post-its where more feedback is offered in the form of short remarks or questions. Each paper receives three additional comments in this round. The following day, I redistribute the papers to their original writers and watch students drink up the feedback, which is made all the more valuable because it didn’t come from me.


I hope these four strategies for student talk make your classroom a little more conversation-friendly this week. Please share with us how you get your teens talking in the comments, on Facebook, or via Twitter!

Shana Karnes is mom to 1.5 spunky little girls and wife to a sleepy surgical resident.  She teaches practicing and preservice English teachers at West Virginia University and is fueled by coffee, no-bake cocoa oatmeal cookies (this week), and a real obsession with all things reading and writing.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.

Mini-Lesson Monday: Low-Stakes Community Building With Post-It Blessings

I am always searching for low-risk ways to build community in my classroom during the first weeks of school.  In order to build norms of sharing our writing, responding to one another’s writing, and writing a whole lot in general, I like to combine some low-stakes activities like imitation writing and positive feedback protocols so students become confident members of a community of real writers.

Objectives — Create your own version of Langston Hughes’ “I, Too, Sing America,” Critique your peers’ poems positively.

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Lesson — I recently read Nancy P. Gallavan’s article “I, Too, Am an American: Preservice Teachers Reflect Upon National Identity” with my students.  The article includes a sample of students’ imitation poems of Hughes’ classic poem, which they wrote in the weeks after 9/11.  The poems sought to make students aware of the stereotypes each one faced, and to defy those stereotypes.

I asked students to read the article before coming to class, to write their own version of the poem, and to bring a copy to class because we’d be sharing it.

(It’s important to disclose to students before they write that a poem will be shared in order to build the norm of openness with their peers.)

With a pile of post-its waiting on each desk, I asked students to take out their poems.

“We’re going to share our writing today, and we’re going to practice giving each other positive, specific feedback.  To begin, pass your poem to the left, and then grab a post-it note.

img_4840“The feedback we’re going to give today is part of the Bless, Press, Address protocol by the NWP. Blessing the writing means to give specific feedback on what you like about the poem. Pressing the writer means pushing him or her to strengthen their piece in some way. Addressing an issue the writer asks you for help on means giving responsive feedback in order to help the writer achieve his or her goals. Today we’re just going to bless one another, since it’s the first time we’re sharing our writing.”

(I think it’s important to begin with positive feedback because it removes the stigma of “peer editing,” which is often vague or negative if not structured properly.)

“So, take a post-it and write a response to a line, or give a compliment about word choice, or discuss something you agree with.  When you finish, pass your poem on to give your neighbor a subtle nudge to keep things moving.”

The room hums with rustling paper and murmured conversation, and I have the students pass the poem five times.

Follow-Up — After giving feedback, students receive their original poems back and read their peers’ comments.  I ask them how it felt to receive this type of feedback, how this activity helps build community, and what other assignments they could use this feedback protocol with.  Their responses to the last question were so creative–DBQs, lab reports, narratives, essays, published works of literature, math activities, thesis statements, and more.

After our discussion, I ask the students to put their poems and post-its into their notebooks to remain a permanent artifact of their peer feedback.

How will you use the Bless, Press, Address protocol with your students? Please share in the comments?

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