Last week I wrote about Sarah M. Zerwin’s book Pointless: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading (Heinemann, 2020) and how she maps out her assessment practices omitting grades and numbers from her classes. Her book is filled with tools and examples how she manages feedback to support student learning. Her online gradebook hacks help to effectively evaluate her students so they can grow as readers and writers.
Similarly, I just finished reading Matthew Johnson’s Flash Feedback: Responding to Student Writing Better and Faster – Without Burning Out(Corwin Literacy, 2020) and I am drawn to compare the two books that address teacher efficiency of feedback for student success.
“Feedback is about showing students how to rise to the next level by illuminating pathos forward.” – Matthew Johnson
Both Zerwin and Johnson utilize conferences, self reflections, checklists and rubrics to help create a culture of feedback that propels students as readers and writers. These teacher-authors focus on feedback that is positive, specific, and comes from multiple sources – teacher, classmates, and student. Johnson states that when reading and evaluating student writing, teachers are not editors and should not focus on every little error or mistake the student writer makes. Additionally, not everything that students write needs feedback.
Here are the key tenets from both authors about feedback:
- Feedback should help the student; the goal is not to improve the work but the writer (Zerwin). Remember we are “teaching the writer not their writing” (Johnson).
- Feedback is a conversation (Zerwin) and not a one way street.
- Feedback should cause thinking (Zerwin) and help students grow as writers.
- Feedback should tie to a student’s learning goals (Zerwin & Johnson)
- We don’t want to scare students or confuse students with so much feedback so less is more. Be a teacher, not an editor. Johnson suggests offer feedback on two features per writing assessment.
- “Feedback should provide a path forward, not an autopsy” (Johnson). I love this quote because it implies empathy when teaching and evaluating writing. Teachers need to focus on feedback that is positive and personable. When students see too many comments and negative comments, they shut down. This is not what we want to do, rather see our students flourish as writers.
To provide helpful feedback, Zerwin and Johnson utilize the following tools and practices:
Have students Color Code Drafts by highlighting statements, claims, data, and analysis. This quick exercise helps for the teacher to see at a glance useful information and for students to follow up with where they need to revise their work.
Use checklists or rubrics as a tool for guides and feedback. Then, have students score their own work based on the rubrics. Both Johnson and Zerwin are proponents of students creating their own rubrics. Check out Johnson’s rubrics at resources.corwin.com/flashfeedback
Peer Feedback when taught, nurtured, and modeled can be helpful for students. Zerwin describes “speed dating feedback” for students to take 30 seconds to explain something they are working on or thinking about and then 30 seconds for the other student to respond. Additionally she describes “peer feedback circles” which provides longer time for classmates to read, respond, and then pass the paper to the next reader with a particular focus.
Additional feedback strategies include mini-lessons, mentor texts, and examples of student writing. Both authors utilize Google Forms for reflection. Johnson has students complete a self reflection when turning in a writing assignment. Letter writing how students are doing, how they are doing with writing and reading are also helpful tools. Johnson and Zerwin speak extensively about conferences and using conferences to provide comprehensive feedback that is focused on actions for the students.
Writing is scary and difficult for many of our students and when teachers provide comments and respond to writing with empathy we are helping students succeed. This might include giving a tip or offering a path forward in addition to a criticism. Both these books shed light on grades, assessment, and feedback to support deep learning and focus on what we value most: growing readers and writers.