Archive from The Teacher Triathlete, March 29, 2015
My fellow K-5 literacy coach, Angie Lew, and I just completed three staff development days around writing workshop. We were given the gift of working with our 3rd-5th grade teachers and specialist teachers who had not yet been officially trained in the Units of Study for Teaching Writing from Lucy Calkins and colleagues from The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.
The three days were a huge success! Our teachers and specialists stretched their thinking by truly throwing themselves into the messy work that is the teaching of writing in the elementary years. The day consisted of talk around mini lessons, observations of lessons in classrooms, practice and study of teacher language during conferences, and collaborative time spent talking and planning. Perhaps one of the most valuable times during each day was spent working in conferring trios (a method I learned from Angie at a training earlier in the year). While in trios, one teacher plays the role of the student writer, one plays the role of the teacher conducting the conference, and the final teacher plays the role of observer to give specific feedback.
While our teachers were practicing conferring in trios, I noticed many wonderful things. For example, many decided to focus on conferring using only one teaching point. Others paid close attention to asking questions to elicit student thinking about the writing that’s been completed so far. Some decided to practice using the student checklist to help guide conferences. Angie and I were able to walk around the room and individually give our teachers many specific compliments and feedback about their conferring practice while they were practicing.
Similar to how we give feedback to students, I decided to structure my feedback to our whole group by delivering both a compliment and teaching point. After delivering a few compliments to the entire group, it was time to give some honest, practical feedback.
“I have a tip to give you. While walking around listening to your conferences, I heard you deliver specific feedback related directly to the skills of writing that were evident in the work. I heard things like: ‘I like how you chunked your different sections into paragraphs,’ ‘I appreciate your use of content specific words- for example here you wrote soil instead of dirt,’ ‘I really like how you thought of a way to introduce your story to grab the reader’s attention.’ This was great, specific feedback about the skills your students were demonstrating. Now- for my tip.”
“Get rid of ‘I like…'” A few teachers stared back at me with puzzled looks. “I know this sounds odd, but here’s why: When we deliver feedback to students using the words, ‘I like,’ we suddenly make students’ writing efforts about pleasing us rather than about them practicing to develop the skills of good writing. It’s not about what we like and pleasing the teacher, rather it’s about our students striving to become good writers for themselves. Let’s all give the power back to our students and stop saying ‘I like…'”
Suddenly, the room of teachers started quickly jotting notes on their papers or furiously typing on keyboards while nodding their heads in agreement. When sharing out at the end of the day, many said that getting rid of “I like…” was their big take away. Teacher language matters- this little phrase is the difference between students writing for us or students writing for themselves and their audience.
I confessed to our groups that for 12 years as a classroom teacher, I constantly said “I like…” while giving feedback to students. Without knowing it, I made the feedback about me. It’s not until it was pointed out to me last year as a classroom teacher that my conferring practice changed.
I am now going to channel Alyssa Levy, my Teachers College staff developer from my time as a project school fifth grade teacher (she’s the insightful one who truly made me look at my use of language in conferring). Alyssa gave our entire teaching staff so many great tips. But, one truly stands out: being specific and deliberate in the language we use to deliver feedback to our student writers. Instead of “I like” make it about the writer.
“You’re the kind of writer who________________“
“As a writer you have______________________“
“You’re the kind of writer who thinks about adding reasons to support your claim.” (then point to the evidence in the work).
“You’re the kind of writer who knows the importance of using transition words when you switch from one topic to the next in your piece.” (point out where the writer did that in the writing).
“As a writer, you have grabbed your reader’s attention by starting your piece with an interesting fact.” (then, point out the lead) “You wrote________.“
“As a writer, you made sure your pictures and words matched to show and tell your story to your audience.” (show the writer an example of where he did this).
Honestly, this is something I am still continually working on refining. When giving demo lessons and conferences in classrooms, I sometimes find myself using the phrase “I like…” When I do, I immediately point it out to the observing teachers. Then, I go in and correct my language with the students. Perhaps this isn’t the smoothest way to go about it, but it’s the way that is helping me to consistently think about my own language and how it impacts our student writers and teachers.
Please join me in retiring the once loved phrase “I like…” Let’s all make a conscious effort to make our teacher language about our students and not about us.
Happy writing, friends!