I had an opportunity to see Rick Wormeli today during our County-wide institute day. Having never seen him present, I walked in with virtually no expectation except that I would be gathering some information on standards-based grading. What he gave me was much more than that, and I walked out with a pocket full of ideas about instruction, intervention, grading, and working with students.
Since one of my pedagogical focuses has been student-motivation, I immediately grasped onto some of Wormeli's thoughts on ways to motivate students. This year, one of my respected colleagues and I are planning to present at the Illinois Reading Council's spring conference. Our presentation is entitled Motivation: the Overlooked 6th Component of Reading (shameless plug), so I make a point to note any new and innovative ways (or oldies but goodies) for motivating and engaging struggling readers.
Wormeli's session was six hours long, so really there were dozens of interesting points that he made. Something that struck me, however, was his discussion on giving students feedback. It brought me back to last summer when I was working on one of my last graduate classes on student motivation. The book What Every Teacher Should Know About Student Motivation by Donna Walker Tileston (2010) was a quick and easy read, but it contained valuable information for any teacher looking to pad her philosophy with some ways to motivate and engage students. Tileston quotes Marzano (1998) on several occasions in her book, saying, "Feedback that is consistent and specific has a strong effect on student success. Just saying 'Good job' is not enough. Feedback must be diagnostic and prescriptive, deserved, and given often - some researchers say every 30 minutes." Wormeli's talk today reflected this exact point.
His point was that grades do not give accurate feedback, and then he illustrated this point over and over and over again throughout the day - oftentimes making his audience giggle with the illustrations that make our current grading system of letter grades and percentages appear absurd. Since my focus was more on the struggling reader, and a large percentage of those students behave as if their grades are about as important as a wad of chewed gum, I paid particular attention to his idea of giving more specific, frequent, oral feedback - something that many researchers seem to agree is highly effective in getting positive responses from even the trickiest of adolescent personalities.
Here's how it works. You are working on aerobic exercise in PE where your students are in the workout room using a variety of aerobic machines. As you walk around, monitoring your students, you notice the posture, breathing, pace, and the way that students are using the equipment. Each time you are in the workout room with these students, consider making a brief comment to ten students (or more, if possible), giving them specific feedback.
Use this format: "__________ (student name), I noticed that while you are _____________ (whatever it is that the student is doing), you ____________ (try for something positive so that you can start with an affirmation). As a result, ________________ (then tell the student what it does for you). I'm wondering if you will get better results by ____________ (and then give a suggestion to improve whatever it is and get closer to mastering the skill or technique).
Here is an example (Keep in mind that I am not a PE teacher, nor do I claim to have an expertise in the field, so use your imagination!). "Giselle, I'm noticing that each day we are in here, while you're walking on the treadmill you keep the treadmill going for the entire thirty minute period. As a result, I'm seeing that you are getting used to this type of exercise and might want to push yourself a little to get to that next level. I'm wondering if you will get better results from the workout if you increase the incline (show her the button) or pick up the pace by maybe half a mile. Can we give it a try? I think you're ready." Two minutes. Tops. She smiles or grumbles at you, but she does it, and you move on, vowing to check in on her tomorrow to see if she made the new changes permanent.
It works in any subject area and any level. So simple, but it is specific, prescriptive, and effective.
This idea of noticing, observing, and being aware seems to be appearing more and more often in the world of education, from teaching students to notice or observe things and draw conclusions to asking teachers to reflect on things that they're noticing about themselves or their students. This skill is deeply explored by another respected colleague of mine in his blog, if you're interested in learning how mindfulness can be used as both a classroom strategy and a strategy of self reflection. I, myself, have blogged about this topic off and on since attending the 2013 IRC Conference, and am looking forward to going back to hear more about how I can use it more effectively with our students and staff.