Building Connections in a Disconnected Fall Through Micro-Sharing of Student Writing

Photo by Ingo Joseph on

This is the second post in a short series on small but fierce tools that can boost your writing instruction in the matter of a few minutes. For the original entry, click here.

For me at least, the last 18 months haven’t exactly been the ideal in regards to professional development. I have read far fewer teaching books, written even fewer posts about teaching, and attended only one (online) teaching conference, instead spending the hours normally allocated to those things just making it through the day in a way that is reminiscent of my first years of teaching.

During many moments this lack of time and space to grow has been a source of frustration, but recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how the dark screens of Zoom, the divided focus of hybrid teaching, or the endless fire drills of this fall have brought their own meaningful lessons too.

And of those lessons, the one that I have been thinking about a lot recently is how absolutely crucial classroom community–which is so often cast as periphery, nice-if-you-can-do-it-but-not-essential topic–is to doing the work we do at a high level.

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A Little But Fierce Feedback Trick: Letting Students Start the Conversation

A Note from Matt: T.S. Eliot once said that April is the cruelest month. With respect to him, from a teaching perspective I find that this moniker likely belongs to October instead. What makes October a sometimes cruel month is in part its busyness, with its parent/teacher conferences, curriculum nights, and piles of letters of recommendation. The first major assignments also come home to roost in October, suddenly adding to our workload, and while the year is well underway, a major break still lies far beyond the calendar’s horizon.

But for me, what tips the scales for October is that it is when the lofty dreams of the summer run into the realities of the actual classroom. The result is that my once pristine plans from August, if they were a suit finely tailored on the first day, already have tears and stains from missteps, holes from days missed (especially when one has small children with eternally runny noses during a pandemic), and quickly crafted alterations whose seams show if one looks close enough. Of course, I don’t mean to imply that my classes are going poorly; they are actually going better than I could have hoped for coming off the online/hybrid format of last year. Even still though, they will never quite match the dreams of the summer.

This is all to say that October, at least for me, is an odd month. It is one of the times where I am the most hungry for new ideas, tricks, and tips to patch holes that have appeared in my plans and pedagogy, but it is also a hard time for things like prolonged attention and deep and lofty pedagogical debates due to my busy schedule. With this in mind, my posts over the next month are going to be a series of things that are, to paraphrase Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, little but fierce. These are some quick ideas and tricks that have made a meaningful impact on my classes and yet can be understood and implemented in just a few minutes. First up is probably my favorite right now: Letting the students lead when it comes to feedback.

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