We need to change our high-school students’ expectations about teacher feedback

At the beginning of the year, my Chicago Public Schools high-school students expressed lots of frustration because I didn’t write any comments on their first major essay. “You need to give us feedback,” they demanded. Some doubted I read their essays because I didn’t make a mark.

I explained that one of my goals as a teacher has become to build my students’ independence, thus fighting against the image of students stretching out their hands like fans at a rock concert, fluttering their paper for the teacher’s attention. I also fight against the ugly co-dependence that arises when teachers feel they must review every sentence, respond to every main idea in order to feel accomplished.

I told my students that somewhere I read, “Whoever does the thinking does the learning. So if I’m writing down ways you can improve your essay,” I continued, “guess who’s doing the learning?”

A few reluctantly said, “You.” Most of them glared at me still wanting my written comments on their paper.

Feedback, I’ve learned to explain to students, is not the teacher telling students what to do. Feedback is creating learning experiences that allow students to reflect on their progress based on some explicit guide, or model, or expectation.

Rubrics? Meh. Those are teacher-directed documents. Rarely do they, alone, provide the information that helps students move beyond superficial conclusions about their process, their depth of thinking, their opportunities to grow. Too often, student-friendly rubrics come off as simple checklists, not reflective guides.

So, instead of dedicating hours and hours writing individualized feedback on each students’ papers, I devote time to figuring out learning experiences that will help students reflect on their work throughout the process and after they submit final essays.

Read the approaches I take to build my Chicago Public Schools’ students competence and confidence on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ blog by clicking here.

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