Last fall I attended a workshop in Atlanta, Georgia where I was able to explore models, critique, and descriptive feedback in the context of education and a new curriculum. While I was grappling with the new information within a new philosophy I was struck with intellectual lightening bolts and I considered my own writing practice talking with my table mates.
I love it when bubbles of my life run into each other — in this case teaching, coaching, and writing.
In the workshop I learned the purpose of the feedback is to motivate, inspire, engage, and to help them become leaders of their own learning. Everyone needs a coach from ballet dancers and basketball players to writers, but there are key components about the feedback that make it more powerful.
In order to produce high quality work you need to know what high quality work looks like so models or exemplars are important. Students need to know what they are striving for in an end product.
I have used this idea for years. My go to example is to think of the last time you wrote your resume. I am certain you Googled at least one or two examples for you to reference before you wrote your own. Many teachers expect students to write pieces with no prior knowledge of the structure when as adults we would not follow the same practice.
Feedback is taught to be given as kind, helpful and specific.
Is it kind?
Is it helpful?
Is it specific?
A learner cannot make revisions to their work if they do not know what to change. Students are given feedback from teachers and peers in order to grow and to specifically improve the piece of work no matter what subject area. A fundamental piece of the puzzle is trust between the people giving and receiving feedback.
Following the rules stated above, feedback is intended to be positive so the results are improvement. People can be sensitive — and there is no reason to be unkind anyway. The process helps all parties become better at their craft.
Part of the key aspects of this area my group discussed was that it is essential for students to learn how to do this process well. It is a structured and the specific feedback needs to be given in small chunks so it is not overwhelming and changes can be made. You for instance don’t look for content, facts, statistics, and sensory details at all the same time. You do one at a time and change during each revision pass so it is done well and systematically.
“I liked it” is not helpful feedback to the writer at all.
“The prompt stated we need to provide 3 examples of evidence and you only provided 2,” is specific.
People like various delivery methods of feedback — small groups, written, pair shares, or being directly told.
Quality feedback has the ability to reshape students thinking about quality work and is a mindset shift.
Feedback is differentiated. Some students will need multiple passes of feedback from multiple readers. Other students may need just one reader. It is very individual.
This process promotes a positive culture for students. They learn to lean on each other for help with they need it and everyone becomes better.
Connection to My Writing Life
Considering the components are motivation, inspiration, engagement, and being a leader of your own learning revision is a real life practice in my life.
I find specific feedback motivating to make the story or essay better. It is exciting for me to know a reader’s perspective especially if they read something with a difference angle based on their experiences. I wrote a flash fiction story about a woman in an apartment several years ago and a fellow writer read it for me. She saw it as a woman who had been kidnapped and fell in love with her capture as a subtext because she reads a lot of horror. That was not my intention as I read it but as I reread it through her lens I could see where she was coming from. It was an interesting exercise to be able to read your own writing through someone else’s eyes.
Conversation with other writers about writing about specific pieces or just in general is inspirational to my writing.
Being a writer can be a solitary practice. I have to make an effort to seek out learning opportunities to improve my skills as a writer. One way to do this is to participate in critique circles.
As a writer I participate in several groups and the discussion and readings in the workshop paralleled with the work I do with these groups. To become a more skilled writer this is a necessary part of my process. I have to know how my writing is resonating with the reader. Sometimes as the writer I ask specific questions about things I want the partners to read for. Since I am asking for this help I am not offended when they tell me their opinion.
If there is a lot of work to be done to a certain story, I might have the group read the same piece several times for different things. As a writer I know I change tense often without realizing it. I had some critique friends read for me recently for this purpose. As a short story writer I am cryptic at times for my reader to put the puzzle pieces together in their mind. But I can be too vague and need a reader to tell me what they think happened so I can fill in the appropriate details to convey my intended meaning.
Sometimes readers specifically comment on the story lead or conclusion.
Sitting at that table in Atlanta I thought about how wonderful it is to teach young students how to give feedback in such a meaningful way that aligns with “real writers”. Years ago when I was in the classroom I rarely used writing resources specially written for teachers. The only exception would be Nancy Atwell. Otherwise it was Natalie Goldberg, Georgia Heard and Judy Reeves.
I am so glad I can share my experience with my students and fellow teachers now that I am back home. I might even talk about it with some writer friends too.
You can sign up for my newsletter here.