Week 13- That’s Me, Local Screw-Up


Well, I screwed up.  Got too big for my britches.  Caused myself a whole mess of work.  As it says on the tag line, this is a journal of reflection which means looking at where we make mistakes as well as reveling in our successes.

I often regale people with stories of how wonderful peer revision is.  Except when you don’t teach it correctly.  Then, it’s hell on wheels.  And it’s a little hot down here.

For most of the class, this is their second paper.  For some, it’s their ninth.  So, when it came time for students to score each others’ papers using the 6+1 Writing Trait of Idea and Content, I assumed (catch that: ass, u, me) that the students would be confident enough to give each other helpful feedback.  (In my head, I hear Dr. Bob Kelso from Scrubs shouting: “WRONG-O!”  I loved that show.  I’d be really worried if the voice was Dr. Cox’s.  That’s when I know I’ve really put my foot in it.)  Because of my rush, returning students did not feel that they received enough feedback to make peer revision worthwhile, while some of the new students were not sure what to say.  One of my students gave such cock-eyed feedback to the writer of the paper she was revising that he was practically in tears.

So, as hard as it is to look at my screw-ups, learning is in the reflection, and here is what I think I did wrong.

1) I allowed myself to be rushed.  The rubric for the returning students was significantly harder than what they had before, and they needed more time.  Some of the new students also needed more time to put their thoughts in order.  I give myself a month to shepherd students through this process, and as I saw that they were working their tushies off but needing more time, I gave it to them.  However, I did not really take into account what that would mean in the end game.*

2) Because they did such a great job scoring each others’ papers the first time, I didn’t take the time to review properly.  I needed to have reminded myself that we have all slept since then, this is new material for many students, and I’m a dumb bunny.  Just remembering the dumb bunny part would have reminded me to take more time to practice giving feedback.  (This is commonly called anchoring.)

3) The pairings.  I had new students reading old students papers and vice versa.  I’m still not convinced I should change that part.  The cool thing about pairings like that is that the returning student’s paper helps the new student to see what is possible.  It is a model for them for future drafts.  The returning students also give very good feedback.  But this time, it wasn’t reciprocal.  The returnees didn’t feel they were getting enough back.  In the early days of class, the returning students felt honored to help their classmates, but that was when they were confident with the rubric.  Now, it feels to them like a drag because they aren’t getting the help they need.  Two of the students almost panicked when they got their paper back with a score (which were accurate) but very little information on where revisions were needed.  I almost paired them exclusively with each other, and I probably should have listened to myself.

4) This process usually takes about 50 minutes.  I knew I was in trouble when many of the pairings had not finished conferencing at the end of class.  The process wasn’t fluid.  I saw it, and I did not intervene.  Bad teacher.

So, how much damage have I done?  It’s hard to tell.  Ted, the founder of my last school, likes to say that our mistakes are transient, and our successes are enduring, meaning that it is not our mistakes that define us.  I really, really try to believe this.

But it does not mean I can write off this mistake and just “do it better” next time.  I need to fix the mistake.  To do this, I’ve been meeting with frustrated students to help them see what to do next.  I’m reading the returning students’ papers with an eye to seeing if their reader, at least, gave them a holistic score that was correct, and giving them particulars to revise.  And reminding them that their readers are new to this process.

I’m meeting with new students to help them pinpoint what is on the paper which can be seen in the rubric so that they can give better feedback next time.  I’m having that one student meet with me so I can re-teach her, and having her do an extra scoring of a paper so that I can be sure that she can participate next time.

We will not be writing a full paper for December.  It is a half-month of school, and I don’t expect that we will get to do a peer scoring for a Humanities paper.  So, we won’t get to do a process like this for expository writing until January.  However, students are currently working on some creative writing that could be used.  I will certainly grab the overhead and have students anchor a few papers before I let them go on that.

All of this is a lot of unnecessary extra work I created for myself.  This is what living and learning feels like.  Living and learning also means using the knowledge I gained from having to fix my mistakes.  God grant I put to use what I’ve learned this week and last.

*Note: I never blame students for not knowing something.  One of my biggest peeves as a teacher is hearing other teachers say, “Well, they should know this.”  Bullshit.  If they knew it, they would do it.  They want to get it right.  Only in cases of very damaged kids do you get that kind of oppositional behavior.  It isn’t something that happens in normal life.  If they don’t know it, it is because the student is in the wrong level of class or you, dear teacher, haven’t taught it.  I always want to say to these people, “Pull your thumb out and stop blaming your students.”


2 responses »

  1. This was a great read. There’s so much to think about here that I’m sure I will come back to this post multiple times. I wish that there was hyperlinks to so many specifics in this post. I wanted to see the word anchoring as a clickable link to a whole blog post about how you teach and demonstrate anchoring.

    • Thank you! My tech-support (read “husband”) tells me that it is possible to hyperlink to specifics. I choose to believe him. Since I will be home tomorrow (my first sick day all year which is amazing considering how often I hurt myself) I might be able to sort some of that out. I have so much to learn about technology. Thanks again for reading!

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