As an adult, I love receiving feedback from my colleagues on how I can make my lessons more meaningful, my student comments more effective, and my blog entries more reflective. I crave input from others as I know that I am far from perfect and am looking to grow as a teacher, thinker, and writer. I need help from my peers to improve as an individual. I realize this now as a grownup. When I was a young student, things were very different for me. I wasn’t focused on growing and developing my skills as a writer or student. I was way more focused on having fun. I rushed to finish every assigned task so that I could have more time to chat and interact with my friends. I wasn’t focused on growing and making use of a growth mindset as a student, and so when a classmate or teacher provided me with feedback on how I could improve my work, I usually ignored whatever was said or quickly made a single change to the work. I wanted to be done with my assignments when I was in school. I operated under the assumption that when I put my pencil or pen down, my work was done. It had to be perfect because I was finished. No feedback given to me from anyone could make my work any better than it was in that moment. And I certainly never went in search of feedback back then, oh no. I was all about turning my work in and being done. I definitely made use of a fixed mindset when I was in school.
As a teacher, I understand where my students are at. I get it as I was once them. They don’t want me to tell them what to do. They don’t want me to take away their fun, play time. They want to do the work and be done. So, my goal is to change the atmosphere of the classroom. I need to help my students learn to rewire their brains so that they want to learn and grow. I need to help my students learn to accept feedback and utilize it to make their work even better. I try to show my students the importance of using a growth mindset in the classroom. I want my students to see the value in receiving feedback from their peers and teachers. I want my students to want to transform into the complete opposite type of student that I was in school. Now, I know that most middle school boys are not set ready to want to take suggestions on how to improve their work. This is a learned skill. I need to help them rewire their brains a bit so that they see the benefit in seeking feedback from their classmates. This is a year-long process, but one that is near and dear to my heart. I don’t want my students to be like me back then. I want my students to be able to grow and develop as students and writers.
Today in Humanities class, my students worked on the self-editing, self-revising, and peer editing processes regarding their historical fiction stories as they work to create a second draft that is far better than their first, sloppy copy. On Wednesday, I explained the difference between editing and revising and then modelled this process with a story a student of mine had written several years ago. The boys seemed to understand that these two steps, that sometimes get lumped into one, are individual processes that need to be completed separately. I even spent time discussing the importance of editing and revising by comparing it to a bike. “When your bike gets a flat tire, you can’t ride it anymore. So, what do you do? You fix the flat tire. That’s like the editing process. You fix the little things. Now, what happens to that same bike after five years of wear and tear? It gets rusty and probably too small for you. So, then what? You have to make some big repairs. That’s the revision process of writing. You fix the big things.” I’m not sure if this helped them better grasp the two concepts, but perhaps it did. Those who finished their historical fiction stories in class, began the editing and revising processes. Then, today, I went over the peer editing process by reviewing the difference between editing and revising. I then modelled this process with a student as I explained the different parts of the worksheet that will guide this step of the writing process. I explained this process as more of a discussion. “Tell your partner what you specifically want feedback on so that he can hone in on that as he reads through your story. Then, after you have both completed the worksheet and read each other’s story, have a discussion. Talk about what your partner did well and what he needs to work on. Be specific.” I reminded them of their goal: To provide your partner with effective feedback so that he is able to revise and edit his story in such a way that he exceeds all of the graded objectives. I had hoped that this explanation would be enough for my students to understand the process and be able to complete it with little to no issues. Wow, was I ever wrong.
Two groups had meaningful discussions as they peer edited each other’s stories, talking about writing and what they need to do to make their stories more effective. It was quite awesome to listen to these discussions as they seemed very meaningful and relevant.
“I think you need to add more detail here,” one student said.
“I sort of already do that here. Check it out,” he responded as he pointed out what he had already typed on his laptop. These two groups were really digging into the task of peer editing. They seemed to really enjoy it. Perhaps it was because they saw the value in it or maybe it was because they were trying to make their writing better so that they could exceed the objectives. Either way, great stuff was going on in two of the groups.
Then, one student took almost the entire period to finish writing his story as he hadn’t completed it for homework like he should have. This meant that one student was unable to have a buddy with which to peer edit. I stepped in and provided him with feedback, but our conversation was one-sided for the most part as I had no story in need of being proofread. The other two groups seemed to be more focused on laughing and goofing around than actually accomplishing the job of peer editing. Despite a few reminders to stay focused and on task, they continued laughing loudly and not providing each other with useful feedback.
So, what happened with those two, ineffective groups? Why were they unable to complete the peer editing process in the same, meaningful manner as the first two groups I mentioned? What was the difference? Did they not care about growing as writers? Did they not see the value in the editing and revising processes? Did they just want to be done with the task so that they could do anything else? While one group was composed of two, low functioning ELLs who struggled to comprehend the task at hand, the other group did not. So, what was their issue? Why were they not as engaged in the process? Did they not see the relevance in it?
As I pondered these questions for quite some time after class, I had an epiphany. For as much as I want my students to be like the adult me and see the value in revising and editing their written work, they are sixth graders going through this process for the first time. Developmentally, there shouldn’t be complete buy-in just yet. They are not able to see the relevance in the important process of revision. They need more practice before they will see how beneficial it is to them as writers. In the meantime, I need to remember where they are at developmentally. Their frontal lobe is not fully developed and so reasoning and critical thinking skills are lacking. Like me back then, they won’t be able to see the power of revising and editing their work for quite some time. This means that they also won’t see the benefit of receiving feedback on how to improve their work for a few years. It doesn’t mean that I should stop them from completing this process. Oh no. It just means that I need to be more patient and flexible. Not every sixth grader in my class is going to desire feedback on their written work like I do. The more I can provide them with opportunities to practice giving and receiving feedback on how they can better revise and edit their written work, they more that they will able to see how important this process is to their growth as writers. Writing is a journey, much like teaching. And so, I need to remember that not every story or student is going to be a polished work of art at first. It takes much time and energy to foster a sense of valuing the refining process.
In the meantime, is there anything else I could be doing that would better support those students who are struggling to see the value in the revision process? Are there other activities or methods I could be using? While the writing group process can work, I don’t want to utilize that activity quite yet as they won’t be able to understand the significance of providing and receiving feedback. Tackling the task of revising and editing in small groups is a great way to allow students to test the waters to see what happens. Tomorrow in class I will reemphasize the benefits in providing each other with meaningful feedback as they complete the peer editing process. I will review their goal and hopefully offer them one more chance to practice this difficult task. While I’d like my students to see the value in the revision process now, I know that their brains aren’t currently ready to tackle such a complex task in a relevant manner. As I continue to foster a sense of community in the classroom and the students grow to see each other as valuable resources, they will begin to make better use of a growth mindset when approaching the writing and revision processes. They just need more practice and time.