Education Opinion

Teachers on a Plane

By Emmet Rosenfeld — October 12, 2007 4 min read
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Grading class sets of an assignment can be compared to a snake swallowing a rabbit. There’s a large lump that moves slowly through the serpent’s body; the beast becomes rather sluggish until the digestive process completes itself.

Unfortunately, we teachers don’t have the luxury of sunning ourselves on a rock until the sheaf of papers is gone. Our kids keep showing up, day after day. We not only have to give them new stuff to do each time they appear, they inconveniently produce lots of things along the way that require our attention.

Managing not just the paper load, but the whole sin curve rhythm of plan-do-assess, is one of our job’s great challenges, regardless of grade level or subject. One way that I am trying to do that now is by staggering due dates in writer’s workshop. Instead of making all papers due on the same day, there are individual due dates for each student.

Here’s how it works. Instead of picking a due date for the whole class, I ask one or two group members at a time to bring their papers (in our case, we are writing personal narratives). On that day, their writing group focuses only on those papers. The student writers benefit by getting a lot of attention; if we tried to workshop four or five papers at a time, the kids who go later in the order wouldn’t get the group’s best feedback.

One drawback is that if the assigned student doesn’t show up with multiple copies of a draft for workshopping, the group is stuck. With judicious use of carrots and sticks it generally works, especially once the kids have done it and enjoyed the feeling of being the star for the day of their writing group. Being willing to run to the copy machine (I’m generally not) or reshuffling kids is another way to cover when a kid messes up.

Once a student’s paper is workshopped, they have a week to revise it and hand it in to me. I promise to turn it back within a week, which is a promise I can keep if I read a few papers a day. That requires consistency, but not the soul-numbing work of going through a whole class set, or worse, several class sets of something if you happen to teach the same prep for more than one period.

Once I hand it back, they have another week to hand in the final copy. Or, if they’ve made major revisions, they can take it back to their writing group one more time, and then hand it in within a week of that second workshop. This is a lot of back and forth, I know, but look how many chances a student has to get it right. Most want to, you know, just like we as teachers like to have the time and support to do the best job we can in planning our curriculum. Notice also that peer feedback is privileged over teacher feedback. I’m the second reader, not the first.

With all these stages, how do I keep track of due dates? I’m trying something simple: a quarter calendar that stays in the writing folder on which students record dates when they workshop, submit a revised paper, receive comments from me, and hand in a final draft.

By giving a week for each stage of the process, I can glance at the calendar and quickly see if a kid is hitting his due dates. Also, by the time the piece comes to me for final marking (I’m still trying to figure out how to avoid that step), I’m already familiar with it and have given feedback. Much easier to move through the digestive track. To boot, I ask students to attach a revision narrative with their final draft that discusses the choices and changes they made along the way. Attached below is the current version of my writing record including directions for a revision narrative (omitted is the quarter calendar I pop on the back of the page).

The system isn’t perfect, but so far this year I’ve already made it through interim time without suffering from that “I just ate a huge rabbit and now I can’t move” feeling. I invite my non-reptilian colleagues out there to share strategies about how to manage teacher workload. So many rabbits to eat… so little time.

Writing Record
Mark these dates on the calendar on the back, using the key provided.
WS #1 Workshop #1
REV #1 Revised draft given to Mr R (one week after workshop)
RET Date returned to student with teacher comments/conference
WS #2 Workshop #2 (optional)
FINAL Due 1-2 weeks after return (depending whether you workshop)
Final must be submitted with revision narrative

Revision Narrative
One page (3-4 par): Describe significant challenges and revisions about each stage of the process including original draft, peer workshop, and revisions based on teacher feedback. Refer to specific changes, both structural or in use of language, drawing on notes and written comments as well as what you remember. Consider how you revised to achieve these aspects:
Creates and resolves tension that draws the reader through the piece
Slows down and expands at important moments
Shows awareness of audience by making the piece accessible to a lay reader
Personal story sheds light on a larger issue

Personal Narrative Eval
_____Show not tell: uses sensory imagery to create a vivid snapshot of experience
_____Control of language and pace, displays polished style and voice
_____ “Emotional digestion”: author-participant extracts significance beyond retelling
_____ MUGS (mechanics, usage, grammar, spelling)
_____ Process: insightful revision narrative, writing record on time and complete
_____ TOTAL (100)

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