By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
When we left off our story last month, Jason Haraz had devised a plan to encourage his students to read and react to the comments he wrote on their papers. Before he returned one of their writing assignments he used the direct teaching method to teach his high school students what he expected when they received their papers.
Reacting to Teacher's Comments
1. Read all the comments.
2. Decide which ones you agree with and circle them.
3. Pick one you agree with and tell me why.
4. Pick one you disagree with and tell me why.
5. Implement one suggestion by rewriting that section of your paper.
Jason told his students that as soon as he passed out their previous writing assignment, reacting to the comments he wrote on it would become their new assignment. He also told them the new assignment was due tomorrow.
Jason, with a serious look on his face, was smiling all over on the inside as he passed out the papers he had invested so much time putting detailed written comments on the previous night.
How did his students react? What happened the next day? How did his students react by the end of the semester? To get the answer to those questions you'll have to wait until the next installment of this newsletter.
To be continued . . .
The following day Jason asked students to get out their responses to the previous day's assignment. "Tell me about this new assignment," he suggested. "How did it go? What was it like for you to read my comments and react?" Several students responded verbally. Many did not. The ones who spoke up offered the following comments.
"It was difficult."
"I had to think about it for a while."
"I had trouble deciding which one to pick."
"I didn't agree with any of the comments."
"It didn't take very long."
"I think it made my paper better."
"My mother thinks you ought to do this with every assignment. You're not going to, are you?"
Students added other comments to the discussion, which lasted ten minutes. Jason then put two debriefing questions/statements on the board and asked students to respond to them in writing.
1. How did your reaction to my comments on this paper compare to your reactionto the comments I put on previous assignments? (Asks for compare and contrast thinking.)
2. Give yourself a grade on how well you did the five things required in "Reacting to Teacher's Comments" on your paper. Explain your rationale for the grade you suggest. (Asks for evaluation and appraisal thinking.)
He allowed his students five minutes writing time. When the time was up he first asked students to share their answers with a partner and then led another class discussion. The activity and discussion produced a variety of interesting observations from his students.
- Students admitted not paying much attention to written comments previously.
- Some saw his comments as helpful, where in the past they assumed they would be critical and evaluative.
- One student confessed this was the first time he had ever read a comment on one of his papers.
- Some students realized that the comments actually did lead to improving their papers.
- One wanted to know if this assignment was going to be graded or if they got the grade they put down.
During the process Jason made no evaluative remarks. He simply listened to the students’ comments, attempting to understand what they were feeling and saying. There are no right or wrong answers in debriefing, just a sharing of opinions. The students who did not speak up at least got to hear how their peers were reacting and compare their silent opinions with the ones being expressed aloud.
Yes, Jason did that same activity with his students the next time a major writing assignment was due. Yes, he did it the time after that, too. In fact, he did it five times in a row, changing the debriefing questions/statements each time.
- Predict how using one of the comments to change your paper will affect your grade.
- How does reacting to your teacher's comments in this classroom compare to how you react to your teachers' comments in other classrooms?
- Can you sum up in one sentence what you have learned about the importance of reacting to your teachers' comments on your written assignments?
- On the whole, what can you say about the kinds of comments teachers write on student papers?
- Make a list of all the good things that can happen if you read your teachers' comments.
By the end of the semester Jason noticed a big difference in the reactions of his students when papers were returned. Most of them read his comments. Because they did, he was encouraged to invest more time reading, reviewing, and writing on their papers. Most of the students used some of his comments to improve their writing. Because they did, Jason felt more valuable as their teacher. Did his students apply the skills they learned in his room to other classrooms? We don’t know the answer to that. Our guess would be that some did and some didn't.
Regardless of whether or not Jason's students used this important skill in other teachers' classrooms, one thing is certain. They used it frequently in his. They used it because they had a teacher who believed that if you want a behavior you have to teach a behavior. And they did it because they had a teacher who was willing to invest the time to teach them how to do precisely that.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com