When I was a young lad, I always wanted a rock polisher. I thought they were the coolest things ever. You can take an old, nasty looking rock and turn it into a polished stone in a matter of hours. How awesome is that? Every year for Christmas I asked for one, and you know what I never got? Yes, that’s right, a rock polisher. Now, this isn’t some rant about what I never had growing up. This rant is all about rocks. You see, rocks are constantly in a state of change. The rock cycle causes them to melt, harden, shoot out of Earth, and repeat. They also become weathered, break down, reform into something else, and then do it all over again. Rocks are amazing like that. Although we can never see these processes take place as they happen over long periods of time, I’ve always been in awe about how focused rocks are on changing and growing. What I always found spectacular about rock polishers is that they can make a process that usually takes years in rivers and on Earth’s surface, to happen almost overnight. What I love most about rocks is that they are never happy with their current state as they are always longing for improvement and change. Liquid rock inside Earth is always trying to find a way out to become something a bit more solid and hard, while large chunks of granite rock are always looking to roll into something a bit smaller and more compact. Rocks are fantastic role models for humans. We can learn a lot from rocks. Rocks teach us to value a growth mindset and persevere through problems no matter their size. Rocks also teach us to look at the world and see the endless possibilities that exist. Rocks are pretty phenomenal and beautiful naturally occurring objects.
Great teachers, like rocks, are always looking to grow and develop. How can I become a more effective educator? Reflection is definitely a huge part of that process of change, but the rest comes in the form of feedback. Feedback we receive from our colleagues and our students. The most effective feedback I’ve received over the years, comes from my students. They know what they like and what they don’t like and they aren’t afraid to tell the world all about it. Students can be brutally honest, which can be both good and bad. However, the feedback students have provided me with over the years has allowed me to grow and mature as a teacher. The implementation of Reader’s Workshop came out of reflecting on feedback received from my students about the books we were reading altogether as a class. The structure of units and activities used throughout the years is all due to the wisdom I’ve gained from asking my students to comment on what they like and what they would change if they were in charge. Reflecting on and then using feedback received from my students is why I am the effective teacher I am today.
Humanities class provided me with yet another opportunity to receive two different kinds of feedback from my students today. As we have come to the end of our first unit on the Canaan Community, I had the students complete a survey, providing me with their thoughts on the unit as a whole.
Questions posed in the survey:
- What was your favorite part of this unit and why?
- What fact or piece of information, that you learned throughout the unit, did you find the most interesting or engaging?
- What did you think about our class read-aloud Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman?
- What did you like about the Historical Fiction Story Writing Project and why?
- If you were the teacher teaching this unit, what would you change about it for next year?
- Using Cardigan’s Effort Grading Scale, grade Mr. Holt on how effectively he taught this unit.
I was impressed with the honest and detailed feedback I received from the students. Overall, they seemed to enjoy the unit. I was a bit surprised by their favorite parts though. While I thought for sure that almost everybody would say, “The archeological dig,” only three students cited that as their highlight of the unit. Three other students explained how the historical fiction story writing project was their favorite part of the unit. What? I don’t think any student has ever cited the final project as their favorite part of the unit, which means that because I focused on helping the students find the fun and excitement in writing, they were actually able to dig into their stories more meaningfully than digging for bottles by the river. I was happy about that. I was also pleased that many of the students stated different facts about Canaan’s diverse history that really stuck with them, which means that I didn’t overly discuss or talk about one topic or piece of Canaan’s history too much. Yah for me. I also enjoyed learning that the students seem to enjoy our class read aloud novel Seedfolks. While we don’t spend a ton of time reading and discussing this novel, I’m glad that the students enjoy it and seem to understand how it ties our unit together. I was worried that this group of students did not like this text because they often seem so disengaged during read-alouds.
While all of the feedback I received from the boys today via this survey is useful to me, the fourth and fifth questions allowed me to extract the most meaningful feedback. I wanted to determine what aspects of the writing process I have done an effective job explaining and introducing. Those that I found creative and engaging ways to introduce to the students, I figured, would be their favorite part. I also wanted to know what aspects of the unit the boys did not like and want to see changed for next year. The answers I received from the students on these two questions will help drive the revisions and changes that I make to this unit for next year. Their feedback will also help guide me in planning future lessons this year.
Here’s what they had to say:
It was great for me to learn that many of the students seemed to enjoy writing their historical fiction stories, which means that they found their passion; they found how to make writing fun for themselves. If that’s all they get out of sixth grade this year, I’ll be happy. Learning to love the act of writing will help them be successful in almost every area of school life in their future. I also love that a few of them seemed to enjoy the choice and engagement act of the project. They liked that I allowed them to write about whatever piece of Canaan’s history most interested them. As research on the brain tell us, students learn best when they are engaged in the act of working and have the ability to choose the vehicle through which they showcase their learning and understanding. It’s nice to know that at least a few of my students see the benefit in being provided choice when working.
I wasn’t very surprised by the responses my students provided regarding things they would change about the unit. I know that in every class I have one student who doesn’t like anything, and so I wasn’t shocked to read that one student found the field experiences boring. It wasn’t because he truly found them boring, it’s just that he doesn’t know how to utilize a growth mindset and provide meaningful feedback. I get that. It is nice to know that the most common response focused on time. They want more time spent on the really fun parts of the unit. That makes sense. I wish we were able to allocate more time in our schedule for those fun field experiences.
Overall, the feedback from the survey will be very helpful for me to think about and reflect upon as I look at revising this unit for next year. As the students seemed to really enjoy the historical fiction story project I used this year, I think I will stick with that as the final project for next year. I changed it from last year because many of the students explained how they didn’t like the final poster project they needed to complete as the final project for the unit.
The second piece of feedback I received from the students today, came in the form of a rubric. The focus for my Individualized Teacher Improvement Plan is on grading rubrics and their effectiveness for introducing and describing graded projects and activities to students, and since the students just completed the historical fiction story project using the grading rubric as a guide, I wanted to know what they thought of the grading tool. Did the rubric help them in the writing process, and if not, what would have made the rubric more effective? After a short whole-class discussion on that question, I had the students, working with their table partner, create a new grading rubric that I could use to assess this project next year or assess future writing projects the students complete this year.
I was so impressed with how focused the students were in working with their partner to create a new rubric. They seemed dedicated to providing me with useful feedback. Every group gave me some amazing insight and ideas on how to create a more student-friendly grading rubric.
- Students want me to use more simplistic, student friendly words when describing what is being asked of them to meet or exceed the objective. For example, in the grading rubric I had the students use, I wrote, “The setting is described so well that you feel like you’re there.” One group suggested that it should read, “You see the picture in your mind.” I like it. That’s some quality feedback that I can easily incorporate into the next grading rubric I create.
- One group thinks that having visual or picture cues would help them better understand what is being expected of them at each level. As the native language is not English for half of my class, pictures are easier to read than words. That’s a unique idea I hadn’t thought about for a rubric before. While they couldn’t provide any concrete examples of how I might do this, I really want to give this idea a try for the next rubric I create.
- One group suggested that I need to include a writing standard about not copying ideas or information from other sources in the rubric. These two students seem to think that originality is important. I like it, but I’m also aware that sometimes, imitation leads to inspiration and new ideas. While I’m not sure that I will use this in a future rubric, it’s definitely something worth considering.
- One group approached the rubric creation from a very different perspective. Instead of starting out with what it takes to exceed the objective, they began with how not to meet the objective. Their thought was that if I start with the lowest point value on the rubric, I can easily add more to each one as the point value increases. They thought that would be easier than starting with the highest point value and subtracting details. Interesting. I never thought about this method of creating a rubric before. Perhaps I’ll try this on a future rubric.
- Grading rubrics seem to help the students. Many of them found the rubric to be a valuable guidepost for them along their writing journey. Here’s what my students had to say about them:
- That rubric help me a lot. Because that paper tell me every moment, what did I need to improve for my story.
- I think the grading rubric helped me in a phenomenal way because i new the objectives my story needed to meet like for example when I was trying to write my story at the beginning it helped me get a thought about what i’m supposed to do and how to get a good grade.
- Lastly, I have a sheet call the grading rubric, I helped me to complete the story. For example, I can see if my sentences make sense or not or see if my sentences have included everything a sentence need to have.
- The grading rubric helped me a lot because without it I wouldn’t know what I was doing and what to change. I needed a rubric so I knew exactly what to edit.
- I think the grading rubric helped me by providing some goals and giving me an idea of what I need to write to get a good grade.
- I thought the grading rubric helped because it showed me what the expectations were and what exceeding the objective was. It helped me because I just focused on exceeding the objective. For example I saw that I didn’t have enough facts on the rubric so I added more in. Also I saw that I didn’t have enough details so I looked at the rubric and fixed my story.
- The rubric helped me to put requirements in the story. For example, first I read the grading rubric. After reading it, I started to make story with requirements like five facts, correct grammar, and more.
The feedback I received from my students on the grading rubric will greatly help me as I look to create and design future rubrics. It’s nice to know that many of my students seem to find them useful. So, my next big data-gathering event will be when I create a project with just a simple explanation instead of using a detailed rubric. Will this more simple project introduction better engage the students in asking questions and thinking creatively about how they will showcase their learning, or will it be too confusing for them? I can’t wait to find out.
Because I seek feedback from my students, I’m able to grow and develop as a teacher, like a giant chunk of obsidian rock. If I didn’t ask my students for their thoughts and ideas today, I would never really know what they thought about grading rubrics and the Canaan Community unit. How can I collect data for my Individualized Teacher Improvement Plan if I don’t ask my students for feedback? I can’t better support and challenge my students if they don’t challenge me by providing me with ways I can improve and grow. As I told my class today, the best teachers make the best students as they are always looking to learn and improve.