Letting Students Give Me Writing Feedback

I would have to say my ‘writing roots’ didn’t really get started until college. I got the writing bug in college, alongside some inspiring teachers-turned-professors who were passionate about helping their students inspire their students. In that environment, writing was democratic—anyone could do it, anyone could teach it, and everyone is a writer. Not all educators have that mentality. I’ve spoken to quite a few who would not call themselves writers, even though they have things to say and stories to tell.

As I bounce along the road of teaching, one concept that stays with me is to repetitively tell my students, “You are writers. You’re writing. That makes you a writer.” It is important for them to see themselves in that way, because the mindset that what they have to say isn’t worth the simple act of writing it down is ridiculous. Recently, I’ve decided that instead of me giving them the feedback, that I would let them give me the feedback. I should have developed a pretty thick skin by now, right?  I thought that I was going to hear, “It’s good. I wouldn’t change it.” That is not what I heard (well, from most of them).

For my multi-genre writing class, we are starting out with Around Then poems. Up until this point, we have been taking it slow: getting to know various genres, students narrowing down their topics, and students doing a looooot of journaling. I decided to write a multi-genre paper with them about teaching, so I would have a draft that was unrefined, lack-luster, but perhaps pretty standard as it goes for this type of poem.

I used Google Classroom as the method for feedback, as it was easiest to “ask” the question on the page. I gave students a hard copy because I prefer to view poetry that way, and they do as well. I could have had them all collaborate on a Google  doc, highlighting lines and giving feedback and responding to each others’ on there.

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Aren’t they darling? This is my Around Then Poem, revised after students gave me feedback:

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Reflecting on the unit, this was probably the most effective piece they wrote as a whole. I think this is because I showed them the process, whereas I lost steam with the other types of pieces (flash fiction and expository). Writing is something I will always love to share with my students, but honestly teaching the multi-genre unit as I learned it in college was great for some students who were more proactive and confident in their writing abilities and it was pretty difficult for my struggling writers. I am going to have to review how to scaffold it with the workshop format, allowing more advanced students to run with it, and teaching focused strategies to the struggling ones.

How do you give handle student-to-teacher feedback? Would you be willing to try it?

-S

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