Sunday, October 4, 2015

From Red Pen Corrections to Care

Image result for red pen corrections

Phew!!  These two chapters were charged with theories and terms taken from the worlds of education and psychology.  From promotion to invention to thought-action gap to chumship, it was tempting to get lost in the sea of terminology.  However, I did my best to stay on track with some of the more general and useful ideas Nakkula and Toshalis presented, and I tried to think about some of the implications they present in my classroom.

Nakkula and Toshalis definitely “get it” in the way that they understand the sometimes harsh realities of being a classroom teacher.  They also get the fact that we need to assess students for our own inferences as well as for data that we, as educators, must use as part of our own evaluations.  “When teachers see upward of 100 students per day and are expected to assess the progress of each of them and then differentiate instruction to meet the varied needs of each individual child, it is no wonder that standardized diagnostics become necessary”(67).  Whereas the authors acknowledge that we do need to assess students, they also feel as though “an over reliance on the identification of student deficits can obscure the many assets or talents they may possess...Grading papers can become an exercise in hunting for mistakes rather than scanning for success”(67).  I used to be that type of teacher because that’s how I thought I should “correct” papers and essays.  However, as I have grown in my teaching practice, I realize that this doesn’t really work.  When my students used to get their papers back and look at my red writing all over them, they did not pore over each comment and mentally commit to not making that mistake next time...instead they shut down.  So, now, what I attempt to do is focus on three things the student did well in his/her paper and two things to focus on in the revision or next writing assignment.  My students respond positively to this type of feedback.  And it actually saves me the pain and agony of “fixing” every little error.  I think now I’m working smarter not harder, and I think Nakkula and Toshalis would agree.  “We must nurture the high end skills just as we must help students develop in areas of relative weakness”(70).
This five minute clip gives us a gentle reminder as to what good student feedback looks like:

I’ve always thought that the name teacher is pretty much synonymous with the name mentor.  I I am a teacher and I am a mentor.  These are not roles I take lightly.  “These studies show that the availability of one natural mentor can yield long-term, substantial benefits for young people, such as increased self-esteem, stronger coping skills, and a more positive view of the future”(97).  Obviously, I cannot be a mentor to every single one of my students...and I think that’s ok.  However, if I can act as a true mentor to even five of my students each year, the positive benefits are overwhelming.  I like to think in these cases, we are even more strongly co-constructing our own and our students identities.  “It is educating to care-for oneself, for others, and for the world around us; and it is educating through care-through caring for the student as the pedagogical priority”(98).    


  1. Melissa - There are so many times that I go to write a comment on a paper, then have to scribble back and stop myself from "fixing" things. I think as lovers of words and language, our English teacher brains work so fast and see possibilities in their writing - but we often end up framing those possibilities by diagnosing errors. I love that you frame your response around 3 things they did well and 2 things to improve. I am wondering though, what happens to those legitimate mistakes that don't ever get addressed? Not every assignment can receive multiple rounds of feedback and have unlimited opportunity for revision. My fear is that students will assume that everything else is hunky dory. So how do we temper realistic critique (and avoid fostering false senses of confidence) with the need to "nurture high end skills?"

  2. This reminds me of "apple-onion-apple" game we do in advisory. Two goods and a bad, for example. That sounds to me like it is similar and you give a great balance. I like the question that Brittany posted "So how do we temper realistic critique?" That is a 'challenging' (keeping with the growth mindset) and great question to ponder. I think I might try to mark my papers with the correct answers and do nothing with the wrong ones. That seems backwards, but it might work to nurture the strengths. :D

  3. Melissa,
    I totally agree with the idea of mentor/teacher being deeply connected, I would also add role model, which can be a bit scary, but I think fits here as well. We need to be open to our students, and accountable for our choices as well, and while we can't control which of our students will take us on as mentor/role model, you are correct, if some do, than we all benefit from that relationship.
    I like the way you are turning student feedback away from correction, I try to ask questions and highlight strengths in student writing samples, and use direct lessons as a way to address common problems. This week we used a google document to address spelling errors and usage/agreement. By projecting a sample and teaching the process of editing, I can feel as though I have given student-based instruction in a specific area of need, without marking up a paper full of red pen. It may take multiple efforts to sink in, but it definitely creates a more positive approach to editing.