A reflection on shifting the focus.
The sign of a good teacher is someone who knows how to modify and adapt their curriculum to meet the needs of the students in their classroom. I teach a wonderful curriculum that uses highly integrated technology in my classroom.There are many things I love about the curriculum, such as the varied texts that are used and the built-in academic supports for both teachers and students. This is my third year teaching this curriculum and our first full year with it. I finally feel truly comfortable; our first year was cut short due to the Covid-19 March 2020 shutdown, and our second year we spent ¾ of the year in hybrid learning.
We started the school year with a narrative writing unit, it is a nice gentle ease back into school mode. Students are writing about something that they are the experts on, themselves. I am supposed to move into our Red Scarf Girl unit, however, this year I decided to make a change to the order of units (Jiang, 1997). As a teacher who knows the students in my room, I knew we had not built enough community, empathy, compassion and sympathy as a group yet for the unit to be as successful as it could be. Red Scarf Girl is a very emotional story and I wanted us all to be ready. Rather than move forward with Red Scarf Girl, we did a unit on Edgar Allan Poe, which aligned beautifully with Halloween. It is important to know the kids in the room. We were able to bond over these stories and build community over being scared, outraged, incensed, etc.
At the start of second semester, we were finally ready for the emotional journey of Red Scarf Girl. One of the things I really like about using an online curriculum is the near instant feedback. Feedback on how students are progressing and feedback that I provide to students on their work. I know I was not a patient student when waiting for grades and feedback, so this appeals to me as both a student and a teacher. Our lessons follow a basic pattern: read, close read, annotate, discuss, act out scenes occasionally, a short writing tab and they typically end with an independent reading comprehension assignment as a preview of the next lesson.
As students began writing formal paragraphs, these are paragraphs that require a topic/claim sentence, evidence, explanation, citation and a strong concluding sentence, I realized that there was a disconnect. The curriculum we use is designed for verbal sharing of only a small portion of the class, typically 3 out of 20 students, so while there is opportunity for peer feedback it is severely limited to the time you have in class. Teachers then provide feedback on the backend in the form of comments to the students. Comments can be from a custom comment bank, general on the entire piece, or targeted feedback on specific details that the teacher highlights. This is all wonderful in theory but it really only works if students are reminded to check their feedback after every writing tab, and if teachers are leaving feedback for every student, every time they write, which is 9 lessons out of 12 lessons. One area that I felt was missing for my students was peer editing and feedback. I decided I needed to modify the process for my students, as any good teacher should when they realize there is an issue.
Focusing on ISTE Student Standard 2 Digital Citizen, and specifically on 1.2b “Students engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices”, I decided to make some changes (ISTE, n.d.). All of our students use networked Chromebooks and are able to work together through the Google Education Suite. After our first couple of writing assignments on Red Scarf Girl, I decided to change things up for my students and find a way to close the feedback loop with me and to create a feedback loop with one another. See my feedback loop post here. Students were instructed to use Google Docs to draft their paragraphs and to share their document with their elbow partner. The important detail with sharing is that they added their partner with comment privileges only. Students started by reading their own work and setting feedback goals using a resource called a “Feedback Chat” on the Learning in Hand blog by Vincent (2019). After goal setting, students were able to read through each other’s writing and begin to provide targeted feedback, and then, utilizing the worksheet, they are able to evaluate their feedback and reflect on changes they could make next time. Students also left each other direct feedback and any necessary edits right in the shared document.
Peer to peer feedback is essential when learning any new skill and integrating ISTE standard 1.2b into our process through the sharing of documents and peer editing has been invaluable. Additionally, students have been able to work on Digital Citizen Standard 1.2a “Students cultivate and manage their digital identity and reputation and are aware of the permanence of their actions in the digital world (ISTE, n.d.). Students have learned to use the version history function, and they have learned that what they put in a document will stay there, just like what you post on the internet stays there. They have learned how to have positive and safe conversations about their writing and even be vulnerable enough to ask each other for help. The most important lesson that they learned is that there is more than one teacher in any classroom; they learned that they all have something to offer one another in the way of feedback, encouragement, and help.
Throughout this process students have also done multiple self-assessments of their writing, as well as self-reflection. This processI developed is entirely outside of our curriculum. I have had students assess their own work based on the curriculum provided writing rubrics and reflect upon the grade they assigned themselves. I always appreciate their honesty, see a sample reflection here. We also did a growth reflection using Google Forms, a modified version can be found here. Students evaluated their writing from three different points in the unit, scored each piece against the rubric and then had the opportunity to reflect on their growth and the areas they felt still had room for continued growth. This directly connects to the Empowered Learner, ISTE Standard 1.1a: “Students articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies to achieve them and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes” (ISTE, n.d.). Without this step in the learning process, many students would not truly see the progress they have made outside of number or letter grade on a progress report. Students need to see their own growth reflected in their writing.
The unit will end with an explanatory/informative essay assignment. The unit essential question for the unit and essay topic is: What is a Cultural Revolution and how can one cause a person to change over time? For this portion of the unit, I will be relying heavily on ISTE Standard 1.2c, “Students demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property” (ISTE, n.d.). This standard connects beautifully with English language arts because of how easy it is to find portions of essays and even completed essays online. One thing we focus on every single time that we write anything requiring evidence from an outside source is citations. Students have come to learn the importance of attribution, and are learning how to build a proper works cited page and in text citations. We will use the built in works cited tools for Google Docs to build our citations.
Other technology tools integrated in the essay writing portion of the unit include a digital graphic organizer. This tool will be used for notetaking, sharing ideas with one another and keeping track of important information such as citations. As we focus on ISTE Standard 1.2c, I want to make sure that my students are aware of the importance of citations and they take the time to keep track of that information. Providing digital graphic organizers and teaching students how to use them also integrates ISTE Standard 1.3c, Knowledge Creator “ Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions” (ISTE, n.d.). Teaching students how to use these tools, empowers them for the rest of their learning careers. The final change that I have made to the unit is the essay rubric. Most rubrics are 4 point rubrics. I have changed mine to a single point rubric with “Glows” and “Grows”. See it here. This change was a complete mindshift for me as a teacher, but after considerable research, I felt that telling students where the did well with each standard and where there was room for growth was more important than giving a 1, 2, 3, or 4 grade. The “Outcomes” column represents meeting the standard – a solid 3. The glows would be where they exceeded the standard, and the grows would be where they still had work to do in order to get all the way to standard.
This process has taught me the importance of seeing my students where they are at, knowing where I want to take them, and it has given me the ability to pivot, as needed, based on my learners. I have an amazing curriculum to work with, and I try to stick to it as closely as possible, but sometimes, based on the people in the room, changes need to be made.
Competency Collaborative. (2018, February 5). The single-point mastery rubric. Competency Collaborative. http://www.competencycollaborative.org/blog/2018/1/31/the-single-point-mastery-rubric
Dunworth, M. (2022). Composition Notebook
Dunworth, M. (2022). Writing Feedback Cycle.
International Society for Technology Education. (n.d.). ISTE standards: Students. International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards-for-students.
Jiang, J. (1997). Red Scarf Girl. Harper Collins Publishers.
Novak, K. (2021, March 21). Holistic, single-point, and analytic rubrics, oh my! Novak Education. https://www.novakeducation.com/blog/holistic-single-point-and-analytic-rubrics
Vincent, T., (2019, January 30). Guiding peer feedback with a feedback chat. Learning in Hand. https://learninginhand.com/blog/feedbackchat