A few weeks ago I read the article The Feedback Fallacy in the Harvard Business Review. (Before you click on the link you should know that you only get three free articles from HBR every month.) The article is about providing feedback in a business setting, but it seemed immediately relevant to the classroom – in fact, it even uses examples from school settings. Much of the article resonated with me, and this really stood out:
Whenever you see one of your people do something that worked for you, that rocked your world just a little, stop for a minute and highlight it. By helping your team member recognize what excellence looks like for her—by saying, “That! Yes, that!”—you’re offering her the chance to gain an insight; you’re highlighting a pattern that is already there within her so that she can recognize it, anchor it, re-create it, and refine it. That is learning.
Isn’t that just what we do in this March Slice of Life challenge? We comment on each other’s work and point out the bits and pieces that make us stop and go “yes!” I know that the heart of the challenge is writing, but, in many ways, this month is a commenting challenge, too. Last year, my first, I didn’t quite understand this. I commented on the required three a day and was proud when I commented on five or six. This year, I comment on as many as I can get to, and I aim for twenty if I can keep my eyes open long enough.
Why? Why all the comments? Well, I’ve now been blogging and commenting for one year and one month (minus one day), and one of my biggest surprises is how giving and receiving comments has changed the way I write AND the way I respond to student work. Two for one! Here are some of my observations:
- I love receiving comments. I mean, I really love it. Knowing that someone is reading what I wrote and thinking about it is incredibly powerful. It motivates me in ways I did not expect when I started.
- I love it when people notice something that I did on purpose or notice something that really worked in my writing when I wasn’t even thinking about it.
- I love it when people connect to my story or relate my story to their own. I love the feeling of interconnectedness comments can generate.
- I like getting comments anytime, but in the hours after I publish something, I sort of hover around, waiting to see if anyone says something.
- I never tell another blogger that their grammar is wrong or that a particular area of their writing needs improvement. I would never even think about doing this.
- I use my comments to tell bloggers what I like about the structure, details or content of what they’ve written.
- I often use comments to connect to posts, to share my reaction or relationship to the post.
- I typically respond to posts from that day. When it’s not the March challenge, I try to respond to posts in the first day or two.
- Commenting makes me read and re-read. Commenting helps me recognize the wide variety of ways to be excellent.
My own writing is better because of all of this. I am able to see what is working and what people are responding to. My use of structure has improved, and I have a wider range of posts. Sometimes, I realize that something I’ve written is unclear. I’m still not great at predicting which blogs will be most read (though sometimes that’s a question of luck), but I am getting better at knowing when my posts are done.
Commenting on blogs has also changed my responses to my students’ work, especially on quick writes and early drafts. No longer do I point out what they are doing wrong; I try to extend to them the courtesy I extend to writers here. These days, I’m much more likely to tell them what I like about their writing or how I’m responding to it personally. The result seems to be that my students are now producing a greater volume of work and some of my struggles to get them to elaborate (such a hard skill for reluctant writers) are fading away.
I still have challenges, of course, like making sure that I provide feedback as quickly as possible, but I’m getting better at using class time to provide oral – and even written – feedback as they write. This also lets me see patterns of mistakes which I can address with mini-lessons. These seem to help more with structure and grammar than the endless corrections I used to put on their essays. It remains to be seen if I can do this with a larger class – this semester’s is mercifully small – and if it will work with more formal essays, but I suspect I will be able to pull some aspects of this forward.
Commenting every day all month is challenging, but I’m pretty sure I’m getting out of it at least as much as I put in. So… time to post this and go write some comments.