In the short period between Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break, I tested a system where I met with each of my 31 juniors individually, outside of class, to provide feedback on a piece of writing. Each student had a slightly different deadline since the work was due at the specified meeting time. I was unsure about how well this would work. Would I feel exhausted? Would the students remember to show up? Would the conversations be awkward? I told the students that it was fine if they were nervous because I was a little nervous, too, but the potential payoff was well worth the risk of an awkward conversation. I sent email reminders to students the evening before. I hoped for the best.
As best I can tell, it was a great success. All students came to their appointments. One that was absent rescheduled. Almost all of them came to the meeting having written their blog post on immigration, which was the assignment. One student had been confused about the assignment and had not completed it. We used the feedback session to talk about what he would write. He wrote the post that evening and shared it with me.
This pilot was meant to test the system. The blog post seemed like the perfect vehicle. I feel strongly about the power of blogging, and since we had just finished a major research paper, we were just launching blogs. Many students are unsure about what a good blog post looks like. Other than telling them it should be substantive enough to start a conversation and that while it should not be too casual, it should reflect their voice, I hesitate to say too much. I want students to find their own voices. I think that many felt some comfort that I would be providing feedback on their posts before they put them out on blogs for others to see.
I sent a Google form to get feedback from the students on the experience. It was right at exam time, so I only got about half of the students to respond. I think it was enough of a sample for me to continue with the system for the remainder of the year. What was clear: students liked getting immediate feedback that they could act on right away, they understood my comments better in person where I could clarify my thoughts, and they appreciated the conversation about their work. They reported that they knew how to improve their work. Most of their suggestions/concerns had to do with timing. Some students had earlier deadlines than others. That would work itself out as an ongoing system where the deadlines would be more regularly timed for all. One hundred percent reported that they think the sessions will have a positive impact on their learning. Three-fourths said they would continue the system if it was up to them to decide. The remaining one-fourth answered maybe to that question. Even though this was only from half of my students, it is enough of a positive response to move forward with the system for the second semester.
In terms of my own experience, I was not exhausted. In fact, I found the process energizing. I loved reading and talking about their work with students, instead of alone in my classroom or at home. Contrary to what I feared, my free time was not consumed with the meetings. The flexibility of some students to come before or after school helped to spread things out. I did this in six cycle days, so once I expand to the full ten day cycle, it will be even less compressed.
Challenges for me include setting up a new schedule for second semester. I will need to sit down with my calendar to see how many sessions to schedule, what days might be problematic (day after Spring Break), and when to wrap it up. Also, I will need to craft written assignments that can be done by students as much as ten school days apart, since that is our cycle. I think it is essential that the work is fresh in the student’s mind for the meeting.
Overall, I am thrilled with the way the pilot went. I have not cycled back to read the blog posts to see how many students went back and made the edits. Exams and Winter Break interrupted. Still, I don’t think that is what I was looking for in the pilot.I know that some students did make the edits. Others probably did not make changes. All of them wrote their posts and heard my comments. For now, that’s enough.