When I bought my 1917 bungalow in historic downtown, the necessity for a new roof was apparent. What was not so obvious, until I delved into the matter with my contractor, was that the new rain gutters could not be applied nor the rotten soffets repaired until the perimeter of the roof was trussed. So we know when students are failing.
What does this have to do with writing? Today I’ve been looking broadly and deeply at school data for ELA, monitoring those struggling students who arrived in the next grade level far below basic in performance. What we don’t know is how to design our classroom for effective brain performance, instead of around textbooks and worksheet examples. The photo shows several of the 50 trusses made to finish the roof renewal.
A great deal of what I believe and try to do as an intervention teacher comes down to those trusses. Kids need feedback. Right away. We know from research that the best learning happens in one-on-one tutoring, even on a computer. Giving the feedback for each response…item by item. And student brains figure it out! Additionally, sometimes writing is the best formative assessment, costing little to administer and yielding abundant information for the teacher, yet the least often trusted and selected.
Our students experience a windstorm of new information and the ELL’s a hailstorm of language demands with little attention to accurate, helpful feedback along the way. Saying “You got a 65.” on a multiple choice test does not qualify as feedback. Students take a district benchmark and either seldom hear how they did or merely see a score on a report card. The state standards assessments are even less timely. Sometime in the summer they get a cut score ranking in the mail.
Do we believe anymore that the human brain can learn from having its correct answers confirmed and its mistakes pointed out?
Some students are fortunate to be with teachers who are listening, assessing and giving the maximum immediate individual feedback humanly possible in a classroom full of young people. However, some are just going on, talking and introducing more and more, like a rainstorm without gutters. An obvious problem is that, as the grade levels progress, the sheer amount of content increases so much that it is difficult to give students specific feedback and teach. Then that enemy of excellence creeps in, “Coverage.”
But those moments when teachers slow down and give real feedback are applying trusses. Each will hold up the next bit of learning. Feedback and feedback and feedback is like a row of trusses, fifty of them going all around the perimeter. Then my roof could support rain gutters and soffets. So I’m going into my next cycle of intervention with a contractor’s eye and doing some carpentry on my lesson delivery that will create trusses.