Having seen the value of individual reflection for many years now, I know the power it holds. Being a reflective teacher has enabled me to become more effective at helping and supporting my students. Taking the time to stop and think about what went well or what proved difficult in class on a daily basis has helped me refine my approach to teaching and the field of education. Teachers are not the givers of information. We are guides for our students as they journey towards understanding. We are the flashlights our students use as they navigate their way through the dark world of life and school. We encourage our students to ask questions. We help them solve problems encountered. We empower them to think for themselves in a critical manner. We show them the path that will lead them towards enlightenment. We pack their knowledge backpacks full of use study and work skills. We are beacons of light and power for our students. We are not libraries full of facts and information. Reflecting over the past many years on my daily teaching practices has allowed me to see my true role as a teacher.
During the past week, I’ve struggled with feeling as though I am not appropriately helping my students see the value in revising their written work. Earlier last week, the students seemed unable to focus their effort on making their historical fiction stories better and more effective while also providing their classmates with useful feedback on how they can improve their stories. The boys seemed to rush through the process to finish and be done with it, rather than really jumping into the task as though they are on a writing journey. This bothered me because I know that in order to grow and develop as writers, they need to see the benefit in revising their work based on feedback. They need to utilize a growth mindset to see feedback provided to them as useful. My students seemed greatly challenged by this phase of the writing process. They seemed more interested in what they could do when they finished writing. Very few of the students seemed to take the assignment seriously, and that caused me to pause.
How will they be prepared for the rigors of seventh grade English class if they can’t learn to improve upon their writing based on suggestions provided to them by others? I reflected on my struggles in this very blog last week, at least twice. I then incorporated some new thoughts and ideas into my class so that my students would, hopefully, be able to see the vast power that revising their work holds for them as students. While I did see my students begin to change their thinking regarding the revision step of the writing process, I was skeptical that all of them had revised their thinking on the topic. I reflected in writing and mentally. What else could I do to inspire my students to see that they need to take the process of revising their work seriously if they want to grow as writers?
Then came class today. Today provided students one final opportunity to revise their historical fiction stories based on feedback provided to them by me, their teacher, and their classmates. I also had them reflect on the process they used to craft this piece of writing, using an author’s note. The students needed to respond, in writing at the bottom of their stories, to four questions. Those students who finished revising their story and crafting an author’s note had two options:
- Complete an extra credit, objectively graded task, that involves the students creating a book jacket for their historical fiction story. They must craft a front and back cover for their stories, being sure to include a title, relevant, hand-drawn image, brief summary of the story, and quotes from others on their story.
- Work on the Things to Do When Done list that is posted on one of the window displays in our classroom. They could fill out their planbook for next week, work on Typing Club, work on homework, check their grades, or work in the Makerspace.
The students quickly got to work. They seemed very focused on the task at hand. A few of the students spent a good chunk of their time revising and improving upon their stories. It was amazing to watch them add details, dialogue, and more effective character descriptions to their stories, on their own. Some of the other students put forth fine effort into reflecting on their writing process as they crafted their author’s note. Their responses were detailed and included examples from their writing experience. It was impressive to see them being so mindful and reflective as they own their work. The five students with whom I conferenced took the feedback I offered them with open arms. They asked meaningful questions that allowed them to understand what they needed to do to improve their story. It was fun to read their stories, praise their phenomenal talents as writers, and challenge them to grow and develop as they improve upon their writing pieces. Students who had finished their story and author’s note early on in the period, took it upon themselves to help others revise their piece, if help was needed. They were being truly compassionate community members.
During class today, I only needed to redirect two students who seemed to find focusing on the task at hand, individually, difficult. Those two students, once redirected, did regroup and got right back to work on growing as writers. The rest of the students seemed zoned in on improving their skills as writers. They reviewed the three graded objectives on which their final story will be assessed. They were committed to exceeding my expectations as they clearly saw the value in the process of revising their work. I could not have been more proud and impressed by my students today. They rocked their stories! I can’t wait to read their final drafts.
So, what did I learn from all of this. Well, I learned that reflection not only changes me, but it fosters change within my students. Because I reflected on what didn’t feel right to me last week, I changed my approach to teaching the revision phase of the writing process. Today, I saw, first hand, how this change impacts my students. They were completely different writers today than they were last week. They care about making their stories better, and thus crave feedback. It’s quite amazing. They weren’t rushing to finish their stories, they took their time to polish their words and develop their characters. Because I took the time to think about how I could better support and help my students become better writers, I changed the way I spoke to my students about revising their work. I didn’t explain the process as a task, but a journey they were going on to transform themselves into better writers. My personal reflections on revision didn’t just change me, they changed my students too.