Recycles

I’ve been catching up on my Google Reader and have noticed–perhaps it’s just the posts I’ve decided to read–that there have been several recent (well, not necessarily recent) posts about giving written feedback to students and whether or not they read these comments. I remember spending my time and energy on writing comments on student tests and quizzes in my first year of teaching, and then feeling that stab of agony when some kid raised his hand and asked if he needed to keep it. Or finding the quizzes crumpled up on the floor at the end of the day. And then, when on another assessment I decided just to mark it and not give any comments, I’d have kids come up to me and ask me what they did wrong on a particular problem. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The school I taught at last year, and the one I’m teaching at right now, are really a different environment. From the get-go I noticed that students really took comments to heart. They read them, they tried to understand what had happened with their test or quiz or other graded assessment. So, I feel like a lot of what I’m about to offer may be harder to implement in a setting where this isn’t the norm.

I also feel the need to qualify my description of these super-responsible students I’ve depicted. You do need to bring the level down a step or two for my current middle schoolers. They run the gamut from very responsible, perfectionistic, no I will not let you come in again to finish your test kids today to spacey, distracted, OMG! we have a test today?-what’s it on? kids. You know, regular middle school kids.

But part of the process of getting students to the point where they look at feedback and think about how to apply it is to give them opportunities to interact with feedback. Things like test corrections, or SBG reassessments, help students to see why reading comments and talking about them with their teachers is important. The process that I started using this year (stolen from my former co-teacher, now at-home-Mommy) is called a “recycle”. A recycle is different from test corrections I ways that I really like.

The format is that student fold a piece of paper along its vertical axis (i.e. a “hotdog” fold), or they just draw a line down the middle. The left-hand side is for students to correct all of the problems they made errors on in the quiz/test, and the right-hand side is for students to explain what kind of error they made and/or why they made that error. The second part is what I really like. Students have to really think about what kind of mistakes they are making. Are they careless errors? Are they big conceptual errors? Did they make a lot of errors involving negative signs? Did they not know the meaning of a word? As they do these recycles, students are involved in a high level of metacognition. They have to tease apart what and how they were thinking at the time they took the test and think about how that thinking has or might change now.

My eighth graders, who have been doing this process for over a year at this point, have a really good understanding of what kinds of errors they make and why. My seventh graders are still learning what makes a good recycle. Some of them continue to have trouble with the format. But they are getting there.

No matter where I wind up next school year, whether I wind up staying on at this school or continuing in my roving-teacher ways, I plan on bringing the recycle with me. After all, it’s good for the planet.

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