Life’s actions are all about feedback. Even if we don’t always realize it, we are constantly engaging in either giving or receiving feedback. A classroom is no exception. As teachers, we spend much of our day giving feedback about student work, behaviour and actions. The research also tells us that giving timely and descriptive feedback is essential for learning and at my new school, Southwood Secondary in the WRDSB, it is one of the main goals for our School Effectiveness Framework (SEF).

In my current timetable I teach grade 12 university and grade 10 academic level English classes. In each class, there is a focus on becoming a strong communicator in both oral and written forms. As many of my students find that they are strong verbal communicators, our focus is on written communication. To align with both my philosophy of education as well as our school goals, I attempt to give my students as much feedback as possible which means employing both peer and teacher feedback strategies in those classes.

In yesterday’s class, my grade 12 students completed a gallery walk of peer editing. (In advance of yesterday’s class, my students had analyzed one of my own personal blog posts and written a response about any aspect or topic from my writing.) For yesterday’s task, the students kept their names off their papers and gave them to me. They then exited the room and I distributed the papers on various desks within the classroom. When I was finished distributing the papers, the students returned to the room and sat down to read and give feedback about one of their peer’s writing. (Throughout our first unit we have been focusing on thesis identification and writing as well as detailed support for the thesis and therefore these aspects of the feedback were the focus during the editing.)

The criteria for the feedback was:

  • look for spelling, grammar, and punctuation issues (minor focus for the editing aspect of the lesson)
  • topic and concluding sentences
  • flow of writing
  • use of transition words
  • thesis identification
  • details used to back up thesis -> are they sufficient? do they support the main idea? could they be stronger?
  • clarity/conciseness
  • writing style -> does it suit the style of response?
The students then proceeded to edit two other papers in the room so that in the end, each student received feedback from three of his or her peers. After they were finished editing, I asked the students their thoughts about this task and was pleasantly surprised to hear that they appreciated having all the feedback. They liked that all the writing was anonymous and the suggestions that their peers gave were honest ideas of how they could improve their writing. There was no competition. It was a community of learners and they really appreciated working as a team towards the common goal of improving their writing.
From here, the students are to incorporate the feedback from their peers into a more polished copy and submit it and their draft from yesterday to me for further feedback. The really interesting aspect of this process is that this task is not being counted toward their respective grades, however, each student was and is still engaged in actively trying to create the most polished piece of writing possible. The students genuinely want to improve and they appreciated the fact that I was giving them an opportunity to make their writing stronger.
Yesterday’s class was a proud moment for me as a teacher as my students exemplified my philosophy that in education, the process and skills are more important than the outcome or grade. Moments like these make me truly thankful for the privilege of being a teacher.
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