I mentioned in the first part of this blog post that there was a reflection that I needed to do on my own teaching. The focus there is in giving feedback to students and working with them one on one.
Five years now I have been teaching English to 6th and 7th grade students. For each of those years I have completely reinvented and refocused my approach to teaching writing. This year has been no exception, but this year has held something of a revelation - one that seems like it should have been obvious all along.
In order for students to improve in their work, their writing, and in anything that they do, they need to reflect on it regularly. But, that's not what I was missing. What I was missing is that their reflection needed direct guidance - they don't know how to authentically reflect on work and they need someone who does to guide them through it.
That seems like a lot to ask, even in retrospect, for me to work with every single student in each of my English classes individually on their writing. Not only that, but they would need me to work through each part of their work multiple times before it was complete - the editing process.
What did it end up looking like?
We worked through analyzing a novel as a class and then students produced thesis statements in groups. Each group brought the thesis statement to me for proofing, upon which I would give them feedback (this doesn't work, that's great, change that, keep this). It was painstaking for them, but I loved every minute, not for the level of torture (I'm not a sadist), but for the level of thought that they were putting into each revision. They were working through a process - a guided process - and it was AMAZING.
The next step was the synthesis of their writing. Each student wrote their paper individually, though they were more than welcome to work with other students and get feedback. They started with their body paragraphs. Once one was written, they brought it to me. We sat together and edited and analyzed it. They would ask questions and I would ask questions. Revisions would then be made and they would bring the paragraph back for another reading when that was finished. It took forever. But, they understood. They saw why the comma couldn't go there. They could get a real life explanation of why their body paragraph didn't support the thesis.
Most importantly, in my mind, is that they learned to ask for guidance. Not the answers, but guidance. Something every student needs needs to learn.
Every paragraph in every student's paper went through this process and it worked brilliantly. But, was the time worth it? How did it affect my time?
Grading was almost non-existant. I had already read each student's paper multiple times, so going through them again was a snap. The writing also turned out better because I had already guided them down better paths before they had over committed to something terrible. I didn't even have to take the essays home.
I'm going to continue on this path of guided revision and reflection with students. The trick is that I'm going to need to figure out how to apply it to other types of writing and other types of skills that are outside of writing. It's going to be tough, but the best things usually are. The benefits clearly outweigh the costs.
Based on my experiences, there is absolutely no replacement for one on one time with a skilled and devoted teacher AND I was able to give my students that in a classroom with 36 students. It IS POSSIBLE.