As I was grading written assignments today and dutifully filling out a standards spreadsheet for students, I was feeling pretty good about my feedback. Then, I went back to some assignments I had previously read – blog posts that I was planning to send to a colleague to put up on a blog. I realized that students had not taken any action on my feedback. In most cases, I would not realize this, and might even accept it, but in this case with the products going public, I wanted the corrections made. On other written assignments, students have the choice to revise and resubmit for a higher grade. Occasionally on a big assignment I require a rough draft be submitted and then revisions need to be made before the final submission.
Now that I have paused to think about it, I realize that I type the same comments over and over. Some student writing is improving, but not enough for the effort I put into reading the work and providing the feedback. There is a disconnect between what I readily state as one of my goals for my classes, strong analytical writing, and the effectivess of the support I provide for students to reach that goal.
What I would like to do is to declare one class per cycle (one of every six classes) as a writing workshop. I know that how we spend class time tells our students what we value. I value writing skills but almost all student writing occurs outside of class or in a class setting that resembles a testing situation. Neither of these is really conducive to thoughtful work on the craft of analytical writing for history. I will ask the students which class out of the cycle they would like to dedicate to writing, and then ask them how we might structure the time to be really useful for them. I could see students using the time to work on revising an assessment. I would also love to see students work on practicing skills where they are weak, such as topic sentences. It could be organized as quiet independent work with me providing individual support as necessary or it could be a whole class or small group activity. It may not always be the same. There is some danger here that we will fall behind on “content” but I hope the tradeoff is stronger writing and better thinking about history that comes when students work on their writing.
It really is about the learning and what best supports the learning. Moving towards standards-based grading is a step, but I think that structuring my class time differently also matters. It is time to make sure that the skills I hope I am teaching get integrated into class, in a way other than formal assessment.