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I’ve described in other posts that the students at my school each study an individual topic, called units of study. Activities within the units include creative writing like fiction and poetry, along with communication of questions answered through research and multiple kinds of reporting. Sometimes the “answers” are three-dimensional projects and numerous other kinds of responses. Students also create magazines, newspapers and pamphlet for topics, along with the expected basic reports.
The teachers with whom I work and I have spent time talking about the challenges of evaluating the “answers” students turn in. There are a number of ways to do this, but one that is a critical question for the teachers is how to save time because one on one conferences about everything is simply not possible. Particularly in the upper age groups, there are so many products for teachers to evaluate. One approach that helped me both teach and save time is the way I comment on the products, and keep track of them.
The content of the comments is so important: I tell what I see that is appropriate and/or well-done, I suggest different ideas for revision if necessary, and I write questions when needed. Some are more generic, like How did you arrive at this conclusion? and Why did you add this part? If it is a written report, I write on the paper. If it is a three dimensional product, I write a note. The questions are key. If I only have one, the student is welcome to revise by themselves and turn in a second draft or make changes to the project. If more, they need to set up an appointment with me to review the questions.
At the same time, I am noting to the student all the things they did well, mostly through words, but on occasion I’ve tried to use markers for color-coding. This is such a difficult idea to explain, but time and again, I have seen and heard my “responses” as “learning” students return to use in the future. When I’ve pointed out things such as the good conclusion written because you’ve reminded your audience of the points you want them to remember, the dialogue and/or quote is creatively inserted, or it is good to explain this concept in organized steps, students are able to work independently with more intention than if I had just given them basic comments like “awkward” or “add more details”.
Brief and to the point. The final piece of this teaching by response concerns my own notes. I have a grid with the student list on the left, and lots of boxes. Column headers are: name, product, conference (yes or no), skills supported. As I respond to the products, I note this information for future reference. For instance, if a student has received several different comments about conclusions, it indicates that further one-on-one work is needed. I review my list each week, making notes of the varying needs of the class.
I realize that everyone has different ways of doing their note-taking for students skills, but not only did I need to make note of what kind of project everyone was currently working on, I also needed to note the skills they might need as scaffolding in order to be successful at the end. Keeping track with some kind of organized system was really important!
What kind of commenting do you do with students in addition to conferring?