These are hard times for education, there can be no doubt about that. It seems like everyone is under fire and nothing is sacred, even the legendary Lucy Calkins and her almost-as-legendary colleagues at Teacher's College.
At the recent New York Coaching Institute, Lucy Calkins talked with the group about how Teacher's College has stayed alive in these hard times. She had several suggestions, but the one that stuck out the most to me was her first one because of what they discovered as a result.
Lucy suggested that in order to deal with the current negative culture, we need to cultivate friends who aren't literacy geeks. Talk with them, use them as informants, and ask them, "What should I be reading?" Broadening our friendships helps expose us to the types of thinking we might not otherwise encounter.
That's exactly what she did, and in talking to some friends outside her department, she was told about the work of Geoff Petty. He has been examining the effects of feedback and found that specific feedback has the largest effect size of anything teachers do. Good feedback can add the equivalent of TWO years of growth if done well.
The website above has specific findings (in a very readable format) about how to make feedback specific by including medals (positive statements), and missions (ideas for improvement) based on clear goals. Lucy's commented that the difference between an excellent workshop and one not-so-good is the amount and quality of the feedback.
This makes perfect sense. I think about some classrooms I visit, in various schools, where the teacher may be teaching in a workshop format, but it's fairly obvious she's just going through the motions. The teaching is still very teacher-centered or standards-centered rather than student-centered. The teacher tends to view the class as a group rather than as a collection of individuals.
Lucy asked us to examine our workshops and ask ourselves, "Does it appear that the students know that their writing should be getting better each day? Do they understand that they're supposed to be a better reader in October than they were in September? Do they know that their partner conversations should be improving, and their reading logs and revision techniques should be building upon each other?"
Too many times we aren't explicit enough about how we expect students to learn in our classrooms. We hide the running record from the child and use it merely as an assessment rather than also as a teaching tool. Or we teach a concept without explaining how this will help them as a reader or a writer.
Students deserve for us to help them set honest, specific goals and to help them towards those goals by continually offering feedback on their progress. Wouldn't we all appreciate this honesty regarding our own work?