Peer Read-Alouds: A Feedback Model

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My juniors giving “readerly feedback” through a partner read-aloud.

Grading student papers and giving feedback: it’s the bane of the writing teacher’s life, but it tends to occupy a lot of our time. Particularly now, as the school year comes to an end and our inboxes fill up with piles of final papers.

It’s such a source of consternation and frustration that there are a number of professional books out there on how to make the process faster, easier, and less painless. In one of these books, aptly titled Papers, Papers, Papers: An English Teacher’s Survival Guide, legendary English teacher Carol Jago underscores the importance of our work and concludes, “We owe it to our students not to let the paper load defeat us.”

Given the research on the importance of feedback on students’ writing (Hattie & Timperley, 2007–see link), we must continue to engage with students’ papers. So how do we stay strong and avoid defeat, as Jago argues we must? There’s a way to increase the valuable feedback students receive without adding to our own workloads. The answer lies in peer response. Continue reading

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When Routine Hampers Productivity

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When was the last time I posted on this blog?

The fact that I have to ask that question is proof enough that it’s been far too long. When I started this blog, it was an ambitious goal for me to post just once every other week. I’d started and abandoned two blogs before, so I launched Optimistic Teaching with a more than a little doubt that I’d be able to sustain it. In fact, I made it only several posts in before I took an unscheduled hiatus from updating this site that would go on to last over a year. Blogging simply wasn’t a priority, and when you have a heap of items on your plate and you have to cut back, it’s the lowest priorities that go first.

Determined to return to blogging this year, I had to evaluate why I had failed to keep going the last time. What was the flaw in my plan that I’d have to avoid this time? I could say it was a lack of purpose or passion, but I had those. My purpose was threefold and clear to me from the beginning: I wanted to have a place to reflect on my teaching, I wanted to enter into a digital professional world and discussion by sharing my experiences in the classroom publically, and I wanted to establish a professional presence online. Moreover, I was passionate about these goals; they mattered to me. They still do.

No, it wasn’t a lack of purpose or passion that led to my failure. I’ve realized it was something much more utilitarian, much less profound. It was rigid devotion to routine. Continue reading