Feedback!! Writing feedback!! Feedback in writing is important. Feedback can help to scaffold a young writer and lead them on a path to developing their writing style. Giving feedback is the part of Writers Workshop that I was most uncomfortable with because giving the right feedback to help grow the writer that wouldn’t stifle their creativity and style was stressful to me.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy teaching writing. In fact, I Love teaching writing. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer while teaching my students writing strategies and techniques.
However, the stress from giving feedback takes me back to my days as a young student in school. I didn’t receive much positive feedback about my content and my writing style. There were many “writing” experiences throughout my 12 years of school. Two times, in particular, stand out to me.
Get ready it’s a flashback alert, so that you will know where I’m coming from...
In fourth grade, a long time ago, I had to write an essay that would be put on the bulletin board for Open House. I don’t even remember the topic, just the comments my teacher had for my mom. She told my mom my essay was good but there was an issue…uh-oh…my lower case ‘I’ was dotted with a small circle and that’s just not how you do it.
Fast forward to my senior English class. My teacher was engaging, but tough. I dreaded his class when I was in school. In his class, we had to write critical essays about Shakespeare, Chaucer and many others. Number one: it was expected that I already knew how to write a critical literary response. I don’t remember ever doing a ditto sheet about that…she said sarcastically. Number two: Grammar and usage was what he graded for. When I received my papers back, there was feedback but not the kind that helped me shape and craft my literary response writing or any other writing for that matter. My papers bled with red ink. He graded with GUMS: Grammar Usage Mechanics Spelling. Again, I’m not sure my content and my writing style was valued as much as my lack of grammar skills.
Feedback that scaffolds
Back to giving feedback that won’t stifle a child’s creativity and style within their writing. My number one rule for giving feedback seems really simple and straightforward: I NEVER wrote on a child’s writing—writer’s notebook, rough draft, published piece—NEVER!! Now there were times when I wanted to bleed all over it just like Senior English Teacher, but I remembered how I felt when I received insignificant feedback and published pieces that were destroyed with red ink! I promised myself I would never do that to any of my students. I would highlight their strengths in writing and give them a couple of suggestions to think about…always written on post it notes. It was up to the student what to do with his/her feedback notes. Oh, how I would have loved getting post it note feedback about my writing content and how I was shaping and crafting my writing message.
As a young elementary writer, I received feedback about how I dotted my “I’s” not the content and how I crafted the writing to relay the message I wanted my audience to receive. So, the message I received about writing was to create the perfect D’Nealian letters. My elementary writing life was further shaped with lots of ditto sheets to practice punctuation, sentences and paragraph writing along with cursive letter formation. Those future college application essays were not going to be well received. I admit, my grammar skills were not good which is a testament that worksheets and drills don’t teach students grammar. Students need to know how to use grammar to effectively craft their writing message. If only Jeff Anderson would have been around when I was in school, which if you’ve heard of him, he was probably not even born when I was in school. Anyway…
Now, giving feedback can be stressful, but it shouldn’t be. We should look for strengths in the writing, no matter how small the strength is. Some of my students would keep their “strength” post its in their Writers’ Notebooks and read back over them. That would have been something I would have done. Who doesn’t like to receive compliments, right? Strengths can be anything that you have been working on during Writer’s Workshop: Having a good hook or introduction, Keeping the writing concise throughout the plot line, transitioning well, using vivid description. The possibilities are endless. It’s always important to tell a child what they are doing well. For that student who is so far below grade level, a strength could be writing a story with a plot line even if it is only two lines long. You know the child, you pick the strength that will build that child up and help him grow as a writer! Remember to focus on the strengths that are centered on writing style and how they crafted their message for the audience. Now when it comes to giving constructive feedback to grow the writer, we must remember our students are GROWING writers. There is going to be plenty to choose from in each piece. We don’t want to give them too much to work on, so we give one thing. When we give students one thing during a conference or minilesson, they will work on it well. We will scaffold these young growing writers with our constructive feedback without stifling their creativity and their budding writing style.
My challenge to you is to look at the WRITING CONTENT AND STYLE. Sometimes it’s hard to pass up all the grammatical errors in student writing, but the more mentor texts we use and observations we make of proficient writers and model writing in front of our students, we will help young writers grow and develop their own writing style and build a foundation for which they can effectively deliver a written message.
Until next time…