Things I Know 329 of 365: Commenting creates space for teacher learning

If a teacher told me to revise, I thought that meant my writing was a broken-down car that needed to go to the repair shop. I felt insulted. I didn’t realize the teacher was saying, “Make it shine. It’s worth it.” Now I see revision as a beautiful word of hope. It’s a new vision of something. It means you don’t have to be perfect the first time. What a relief!

– Naomi Shihab Nye

Last year, as I prepared the write-ups of assignments for my 11th-grade class, I would send them to the two seniors who were assigned as student assistant teachers in those classes.

Those e-mails often included the subject line, “What do you think?”

I knew what I was trying to get across with the assignment and had a general idea of what the final products would look like, but that doesn’t mean I wrote about it as clearly as possible.

A day or two later, I’d have their replies in my inbox with comments and questions that couldn’t help but make my instructions better.

They picked out pieces of the alignment to SLA’s core values or wording in the rubric that was unclear. They also told me when I asked a greater time commitment than my kids could spare at the moment. As close as I was with my students, my SATs were closer.

I’d imagine someting similar happened this semester with my professors and the teaching fellows (Harvard’s version of teaching assistants). When we had questions or concerns over readings or other assignments, they were the first line of defense.

It’s what led me to suggest a better utilization of technology in the handing out of assignments – Google Docs.

My favorite cloud-based word processing engine and yours started offering a new sharing option in docs a while back.

You can share a doc publicly and allow commenting, but not editing. I used it a bit this semester when asking for feedback on my writing, and the applications for teachers or professors and their assignments makes great sense.

I would handle it just as I had handled the SAT review process in the classroom, and add assignment commenting as another layer of refinement. Students would add their comments and questions about the work in-line. I’d have a clear course for making things clearer and a leg up on improving the assignment if I planned on using it again later.

Aside from sharing the load, making assignments more accessible, and refining our work; the thing that excites me most about this idea is the modeling of learning that’s involved. With all the chatter around teachers being learners and learning alongside students, we don’t often offer concrete examples of how that can happen. This approach honors the authority of the teacher while also honoring the process of revision. It says to students, “I’m doing the same kinds of work I’m asking you to do.”

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