Throw Out Grades, Give Focused Feedback, Smile, Repeat

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help kids and improve with focused feedback
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I was frustrated. If I’m frustrated, there’s no doubt my students feel the same way. During one winter break, I knew I needed to find a refresh button somewhere. In my search to find a way to shift my classroom, I stumbled upon the idea of giving up grades and helping my students to value learning. The key to success I knew would hinge on one thing: focused feedback.

I immersed myself in the topic. I couldn’t find enough to read and learn. I was hooked. Focused feedback, no grades, and a classroom buzzing with active learners. I wanted that.

The outdated classroom cycle

  • I teach writing lessons and have students practice one skill at time. 
  • I take a lot of time to provide feedback…. and a grade. 
  • My students check the grade and file the paper (if they like the grade) or ditch the paper (if they don’t). 

Then, I repeat the cycle. Sometimes I provide the same exact feedback and then give the same grade. Repeat again. 

By the time December rolls around, I’m exhausted. Now, I’m just putting a grade on the paper. Now my feedback is simply, “If you want to know what to fix, come see me.” How many kids come see me?  Not nearly enough.  I’m frustrated.

Giving up grades

So, I started the new year determined and inspired. However with 128 students, I needed to find an effective way to provide specific, focused feedback. Enter the SE2R strategy, or, as I like to call it, teacher’s gold.

Because it’s specific and differentiated, applying SE2R takes time. In an effort to speed up the process, I searched for technology to help me. Already an avid Google Docs user, my students mostly completed writing online, and I utilized comments to “mark it up.” Then I discovered Kaizena. This Google Chrome app allows me to add recorded focused feedback via audio, highlight areas of concern, and attach resources my students can review. 

Armed with SE2R, Google Docs (using Doctopus), and Kaizena Mini, I have converted my classroom. Giving focused feedback to my students is direct, differentiated, specific, and quick. By recording my summary, explanation, redirection, and request to resubmit, I’ve cut time. Next, I highlight the area I want my students to focus on revising, and I attach a resource.

My students? At first they were wary and hesitant — no doubt. These are gifted students who only value the “end game” because it is what they have been taught all their lives. 

However, after the first feedback-only assignment, I started to see more buy-in. More important, I started to see them love to learn.  They eagerly plug their ear buds into laptops to listen to my feedback. They click on the resources. They make revisions. Then, record themselves, “Hey, Mrs. Powers, is this better?  Did I get right this time?” 

Me? The frustration is gone. I’m smiling. 

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Gina Powers

ELA teacher of the gifted; NBCT; lover of words, writing, books, and technology; passionate about creating a buzz through inspiration and learning; mom of three amazing kids with an incredible partner; conquering life's challenges with a smile.

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