Tuesday, July 10, 2012

All They Wanted

I write this more in shame than anything, but in a hope you can learn from it. This is probably common sense to most of you, but sharing this failure might click with someone.

I was attending the Solution Tree PLC conference in St. Louis earlier this summer. I attended many sessions on assessment because it's something that has been an interest of mine for a while. I have knowledge of many good formative assessment practices. I'm big on the retake and standards-based assessment and reporting.

This past year, and many years before it, students would ask the same old question, "How long does it need to be?" I would come back with the response, "I interpret that question as meaning, 'How short can it be to get by, Mrs. G?'" Sadly, some students caught on to this and would give that response to students before I could even give it. I realized got a big slap in the face after attending a session at the conference (I can't remember which) that all the students wanted were more examples of good writing. They really aren't asking to see how short it can be, well maybe a couple are, but most really want to know so they can do their best!

Writing is not one of my strong suits. I have allowed students to fix things and resubmit their paper, and I blog with my students so they have a larger audience for me. One thing that really hit home with me at the PLC conference was students' needs for many examples of writing that meets, does not meet, exceeds the standard.  I was giving them a rubric with descriptors and sometimes one good and one poor model to look at, but many weren't able to transfer to what that would look like in their own writing. They need more. They need more models posted. I even have a sweet little box called "Mentor Texts," for their writing, but I need to be more explicit with its use.

So, this is one of many improvements I hope to make this year. After 6 years of teaching, there's never been one year where I say, "I hope next year is an exact repeat of this year." I archived all of my students' blog posts from last year and hope to use them as models for this coming year (names omitted of course).

What are some mistakes you've made in your classroom? How can you take a risk and be transparent about those mistakes to help others learn?


  1. That is an insight I would not have come to on my own, I don't think. Whenever I wrote an essay answer during an exam or was assigned to write a paper without guidelines of length, I would want to know the minimum or expected length. When I was given length guidelines and told a maximum I never liked that. True, I am sure not every teacher wants to read a glorious thesis on the causes for the French Revolution. Still, looking back, minimum guidelines or even approximations are more reassuring. When told to write 4-5 pages, I would try to aim for the 5 pages, but if I felt short I wouldn't beat myself up. When I didn't have any guidelines, I would worry if I thought it was short.

    That is a great insight and I will be sure to keep it in mind when assigning writing tasks to students. Thank you.

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  3. Dear Mrs. Goerend,

    My name is Alecia Baxter and I am a Sophomore at the University of South Alabama in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class. I would like to start by saying that I remember being one of those children that would ask her teacher how long it would need to be. In fact, I still ask my professors that same question each and every time we get a new assignment. Writing has always been a strong suit of mine because of the wonderful english teachers I have had from Elementary School all the way to High School.

    The "Mentor Texts" sounds like a pretty nifty idea to have your students' writings in. By reading this post I hope that one day, when I become an Elementary School teacher, that I will be able to use this concept. If you would like you can visit my blog site. Wishing you luck on your many years as an educator.

    Alecia Baxter

  4. Hello Mrs. Goerend,

    I am a student at the University of South in Dr. Strange class. I love your blog because writing was very difficult for me in middle school and a little in high school. When it came time to complete a written assignment, I dreaded it. I still to this day do not like written assignments, but I am now a little more comfortable with writing. I wish my teachers would have thought about “Monitor text” when I was in middle school it sounds like a great ideal.

    As a pre-k, I have not made very many mistakes because I am able to prepare/pre-write. How can I take a risk is writing is with the students and pointing out when I make a mistake and so them how to correct mistakes. Reading your blog showed me that I need to involve my students a little more with my write because a pre-k teacher is the first step to their educational life.

  5. Thanks for this post! I have had the same problem with writing in my own class. Recently, I blogged about using rubrics in class, but I agree that students need to see more examples. I am the same way as a learner...examples and mentor writing is so helpful!
    Another mistake I have made as a teacher (and can't we always admit to many) is not giving enough visuals for my students to truly anchor their thinking. I am a visual learner, and last year, I would put something on the smart board, but didn't always create something that would permanantly hang in the classroom. Students need to have these resources more than just once (which is what I was providing in my flipcharts), but they should constantly use things such as anchor charts to revisit their learning. I've been making a strong effort to incorporate this more in my classroom this year.

  6. Mrs. Goerend,
    I am going to be either a middle school or high school English teacher, so this post definitely had some significance to me. Like you, I never thought my writing was my strong suit; however, I do feel like I have gotten better over the years largely through practice and also reading. Examples play a huge role in improving student writing. Simply reading a lot of books can serve as examples for students, but I also like your idea of showing them previous blog posts. The more examples students have to digest and understand the better their writing can get. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    Josh Adkison
    EDM 310 South Alabama

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  8. Mrs. Goerend,
    I am Cheyanne Wilson, a student at the University of South Alabama. I have been assigned to comment on your blog for Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class.
    I never realized that whenever students ask how long a paper needs to be they are really wanting to do a fantastic job on it. I always thought they meant how long does it need for them to get by also. That is a very interesting point to me. I also like how you provided text for the students to read before they proceeded with their papers. I hope this change helped you in your teaching career!
    Cheyanne Wilson

  9. Hi Mrs. Goerend,
    I am Shelby Day from the University of South Alabama in Mobile. I have been assigned to your blog by Dr. Strange for my EDM 310 class. I have never thought that students asked that question wanting to see a ideal example or they are wanting to do well. In my mind students were always trying to do the least amount of work possible. This is a good point to think about!

    Shelby Day