Yancey's "On Reflection" and Sommers' "Responding to Student Writing"
I have to admit that I really enjoyed both pieces this week as I felt they pertained to my teaching life. Providing feedback has been something of a "hot topic" in my language arts department at work, while using reflection more with my students is a technique that I have wanted to grow this year.
To begin with, the Nancy Sommers' piece was filled with value and truth. As my students begin their first big writing piece of the year, and we begin to talk about the importance of revision, I ask them if they have ever been given back a paper with comments from the teacher that they either didn't understand or that the don't know how to fix. Almost every hand goes up. They share that some teachers only care if they make grammar mistakes even if they have written the greatest stories of their young lives, or that they get the "you need to elaborate more" comment on every paper ever written, but the teacher never teaches them how to elaborate more. My students seem to exhibit frustration when sharing these reflections. This resonates exactly with Sommers' text.
Within the text, Sommers opens by stating how time consuming writing comments and feedback on students' papers is. One would think that such a time consuming endeavor would be the most beneficial in helping student writers grow. However, she goes on to raise concerns surrounding this practice. The two issues found within her research shows that,"teachers' comments can take students' attention away from their own purposes in writing a particular text and focus that attention on the teachers' attention in commenting." The other finding states that," teachers' comments are not text-specific and could be interchanged, rubber-stamped, from text-to-text." Both of these findings show that the teacher holds a lot of power over the student and their writing. The voice and intention of the student can easily become lost as they worry more about the vague feedback they try to fix to gain a good grade.
I am guilty of the red penned papers from my past, before I knew better. However, I feel that I have gotten stronger in teaching students that feedback comes along the way as they write. Comments are not special only to the end of a published piece. As hard as it is for students to understand this, writing truly is recursive. When I meet with my students in small groups or one on one, they gain feedback. When we gathered for whole class mini-lessons on how to ___ they are gaining feedback through a lesson that they need try in their writing. Yes, there are comments at the end, but they are never, "you need more elaboration." They are specific to each child based on his piece and his need. It may become a goal for his next piece.
My favorite quote from this piece is," the teacher holds a license for vagueness while the student is commanded to be specific." That is really unfair!
While reading the Yancey piece, I could not help but think about my time over the summer with the Kean University Writing Project. Whenever anyone asks me about my biggest take aways from my time in this institute, I always talk about the time that I had to reflect. I was able to reflect on myself as an educator, on my teaching practices, on my writing, and on myself as a person. I came to understand that reflection is invaluable. I also know that there is not always enough of it happening. It is something that I want to do more within my own life and also with my students. As I looked over some of my classmates' blog posts, I noticed that Colin really hit the mark on how writing reflection is treated in schools. It is that quick, end of the year piece, that goes on to their next year's teacher. What I would like to do is instill more time throughout the year. I have set up blogs for my students to reflect on their learning at different moments throughout the year. This text really solidified the value that I already knew was there.
Throughout the text there were many phrases and thoughts that stood out to me. That reflection:
- Brings about self awareness
- Shows how learning is happening
- Is an ongoing conversation a writer has with himself
- Stimulates the growth of consciousness
- Gives authority to what is going on inside the writer's head
- Allows for goal-setting
- Is controlled by the learner
- Calls for dialogue
- Allows us to understand ourselves through explaining ourselves to others
- Is a habit of the mind- one that transforms
- Is rhetorical
- Helps teachers to know which methods are the most successful
- Can be private or public
Finally, thoughts on our final project...
I was kind of amazed at how quickly ideas jumped out. I'm kind of a "marinater (??)." I need to really think about things afterwards. I like the idea of the handbook. I think I like it more for teachers than for students, as I feel it would be a very different construction. I think if we create it for teachers we can divide it into age groups or by lessons. I also agree (someone's post said it) that we need to think about those in the class who are not educators. How do they feel about this? Could there be more than one project? I'm sure the answer is yes. What is the focus of the handbook? I'm also happy with digital and analog I do see the argument for both sides. I guess I'm still vague here. Perhaps we need a little more "hashing it out."