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Could Try Harder…

August 7, 2007

No, the title isn’t really a reference to my recent lack of activity! Nor is it a dig at the many Scottish pupils who are getting their results at the moment… No I chose the title as a result of Christian Long’s post about developing your own voice. In it, Christian taps into the ‘grading’ that happens when pupils write an essay, and then expands it to look at blogging styles. Rather than me summarising his words, you should read it and come back. I’ll wait.

What struck me about Christian’s post was that his idea that an A grade should challenge the status quo. That it should make me re-evaluate my thoughts on the subject. As a fellow English teacher, I have been lucky enough to have taught a few pupils who were capable of this. Every text I’ve taught has been taught better the second/third/fourth time round because of observations and coments made by my classes. As Christian writes:

reading a classfull of A essays is considered the Holy Grail of desire for most English teachers…

Yet, when he opens his argument into a discussion of the merits of bloggers, he also hints at a possible route towards that most rarified place. If we think about how our blogging voice develops, it is because of our commenting, not our posting. What would happen if we could take that particular lesson, and apply it to our classroom grading?

Just about every teacher I’ve met knows that the first thing a pupil does when they get an essay back is to look at the grade. Then, if you’re lucky, they’ll skim your comments and suggestions. If you’re really, really lucky, one or two of your pupils might even act on your suggestions when they redraft, but for most, you often feel as though you might as well not have bothered. Now suppose that essay was like a blog post. The teacher is the first commentor, the pupil responds to the comments and defends what they first wrote… the teacher comes back on the response. Another pupil reads and responds to the essay. The original pupil reacts to this comment, and so on… What would happen to the pupils’ grades if, instead of giving a mark and comments, we actively encouraged them to discuss their essay along the lines of a blog post? Would it make a difference? I think so. So much so, that I’m going to try it when school starts next week.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2007 6:46 am

    When I was in the States I realised that very few people, if any, had a concept of what assessment for learning might be. This was almost as revolutionary as the technology that actually, in practice, makes peer commenting possible, for example.

    When I see peer assessment in classrooms it’s great, but it’s always limited by the time and physical space of the school day. If we could see more of this, and students being coached on how to comment (not as easy as it seems, of course) then we would see far more valuable peer assessment going on, I’m sure.

    Sandaig Primary or Huntly’s Rate My Mates are great examples of this, although in English with longer texts there is a wonderful opportunity to teach how to write longer, more constructive (and harder) comments.

  2. August 7, 2007 7:13 am

    I keep forgetting that in some ways Scotland is really quite revolutionary and forward-thinking! Assessment is for Learning is pretty much second nature to the majority of Scottish teachers now, and yet the principles that underpin are not fully recognised and implemented elsewhere… Mmm… I sense another post! Thanks muchly, Ewan.

  3. August 7, 2007 10:46 am

    A bit like Progress Report only with peer assessment as well -which is what I always wanted to have! (And I’m delighted to report that the more assiduous of the posters to that blog has just got an A in English..)

  4. August 7, 2007 3:41 pm

    Absolutely! I certainly think it’s worth trying.

    And congratulations to your A poster!

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