Monthly Archives: February 2015


The shadow of a hawk shot
through the blowing snow–
it looked like smoke
in steam.

I thought of my student,
no longer a student,
a union carpenter now.
Does he, driving to work before dawn,
think the stripes of ice
on the road look like pewter or steel?

What did I want for  him instead?
More student debt? A chance to be
a middle manager somewhere?
No, but it hurt me somewhere deep
when he talked about how much
he loved to sing but won’t have time
for choir or plays any more.

I guess I wanted choice
to be available to him
and probably it’s near-sighted
of me not to notice he’s made
his choice.

Feedback is what comes second, Part II

Tomorrow begins the fourth week of the sememster, and the grading is already thick. I plan to spend at least two hours grading every day this week, and then more next Saturday, depending on how far along I’ve gotten.

[I really want to work on my metaphors for grading. What occurred to me as I wrote “grading is already thick” was thick underbrush, which implies that I’m heading in with a bushhog or a machete, which is not really how I see myself when I’m actually grading….]

I’m continuing to think about the article “The Power of Feedback” by John Hattie & Helen Temperley, which appeared in Review of Educational Research in 2007.

Today I’m unpacking this chunk of a paragraph, in which they’re summarizing some of their findings:

“Over all comparisons it appears that the power of feedback is influenced by the direction of the feedback relative to performance on a task. Specifically, feedback is more effective when it provides information on correct rather than incorrect responses and when it builds on changes from previous trails.The impact of feedback was also influenced by the difficulty of goals and tasks. It appears to have the most impact when goals are specific and challenging but task complexity is relatively low. Praise for task performance appears to be ineffective, which is hardly surprising because it contains such little learning-related information. It appears to be more effective when there are perceived low rather than high levels of threat to self-esteem, presumably because low-threat conditions allow attention to be paid to the feedback.”

As I think about the reading journals I’ll be looking at later today, I’m pleased that I’ve told students I’m not concerned about grammar and mechanics in them. In general, I’m tired of how I provide feedback on grammar and mechanics (in which, since 1987, I have absolutely provided more information on incorrect responses RATHER THAN correct), and in a literature class, as students are focused on analysis and interpretation, I really don’t want them worried about grammar and mechanics at all. (That will come later, in their formal paper for the class.)

So what I need to make sure to do today is point out where their analysis uses terms from the class correctly, and where their interpretation goes in interesting directions. I will also point out where it goes badly, but I want to make sure I’m showing what works. Then, obviously, part of what I need to do is build, from journal to journal, on what they’ve done before. This seems challenging–there are 26 students in the class. How will I remember? Maybe I can ask them to summarize what went well in the last one (yes, I know I could review the previous one before I grade the next one, but honestly–I’m not sure I’ll take the time to do that). Sometimes I do remember, of course. But I won’t always remember for every student.

And then what about this part? “It appears to have the most impact when goals are specific and challenging but task complexity is relatively low.” I think the reading journal assignment I give meets these goals–I’ve given really specific instructions, and it’s a challenging assignment, but the particular tasks are not that complex (summarize the piece, use terms from class, etc.).

I’m particularly interested in the notions of praise not being effective. They don’t mean that professors shouldn’t be positive. What they mean is that when you praise the person or the effort (“You’re a good student!” or “I can tell you worked hard on this” that you’re not focusing the feedback on the intellectual task itself, and thus the feedback is less effective.) I need to think about this more and write about it more–I think it’s going to be the subject of my next “Pedagogy Stew” for the Voice of the River Valley.

But then, oh, to finish up–I try to set up my classes and tailor my feedback so that the threats to self-esteem are low, but this is hard, hard, hard, especially when we have students for whom any criticism at all feels like a threat to self-esteem.

[And gosh. Could there be a connection between images of a bush hog and student self-esteem? Aargh.]

Image from Rural Lifestyle Dealer--look how happy she is to be grading journals.

Image from Rural Lifestyle Dealer–look how happy she is to be grading journals.

Just Try

Sitting at the kitchen table this morning, getting ready for work, I spied, with my big blue eyes, this:

It reminded me that the origin of our word “essay” is French, “essai,” which I always heard interpreted as “an attempt.” (I don’t actually know French, but I know the things Moliere wrote were called “Essais” and I know Dave Smith wrote some essays called “Assays.”)

So when Bounty wants to tell its French-speaking paper towel customers to try napkins, it tells them to ESSAYEZ. (I picture my French doppelganger in Montreal, finishing her tea, taking a deep breath, hoping it’s going to be a productive day….She’s a lot like me except her clothes look better on her because she’s French.)

And that’s my message to students as they head into a rough draft for their first essay assignment–just try.