Learning on the Run

from Masters to Marathons

Improvement Science Week 4- Study/Act–The Waves of Change

In the final week of my Improvement Science Plan, I was able to put pretty much all of the remaining pieces in order. Students peer edited one another’s papers, invited their outsider editors “in” and completed an Exit Ticket that provided the students an opportunity to reflect on the process and give me a chance to learn about my change idea in a more specific way.


To begin, students edited one another’s papers.  We began with a story I wrote to share with them, and they practiced providing effective feedback on paper.


Then, we made the transition to technology and continued the process. For a lot of students, it was the first time “sharing” a document. They were able to make it through the sharing piece, but were struggling after, asking, “Ms. Var, where did it go?” I had to go step by step so students were able to go to their “Shared with Me” section of their Google Docs and, low and behold, many replied, “Oooohhhh, there it is!” which made me smile since we are all learning and growing in this world of technology together.

Students worked to make comments and provide valuable feedback that had substance, versus just making vague comments or simply fixing the conventions errors. In fact, in the final reflection survey, some students were not thrilled with their editors for this very reason. I got some really cute comments regarding their editors’ lack of quality feedback, which in turn, helped them see why they needed to make sure to do a quality job and really help their partner produce a stronger final piece. When conducting my research, it stated how imperative it is to teach students that providing valuable feedback means mentioning strengths in a specific way, but also making sure to acknowledge ways the writing could be better, but doing so in a constructive way that leaves the writer with key information needed to take the next steps toward improvement.

Here are some samples of comments on their peer’s work:



I was also happy to see the “outside” editors commenting, even after school hours. The main thing was that students got a chance to share their stories  with those of their choice and get a variety of feedback in the process.


Students then, per my previous research in the earlier weeks, followed up with sharing their next steps and provided a reflection, suggesting how and why they changed their drafts prior to official submission, based on their editor’s comments. This was the final component and really outlined what changes were made and how those changes impacted the final piece.




I realized that students didn’t really have a lot of practice with reflection and needed some guidance. According to Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind  teachers need to create environments where students are able to effectively reflect in a continual process that both engages and transform the mind (Costa & Kallick, 2008). It is also important to teach students how to  reflect, and by using sentence stems, allow students to begin the process one step at a time. The ultimate goal is to get students to a point where they “get [students] into the habit of reflecting on their own actions and constructing meaning from those experiences,” (Costa & Kalllick, 2008). When I provided my students the opportunity to reflect, I made sure to build in sentence starters that they could use if they needed and I feel like the helped a lot in the quality of the reflections I received, as prior to providing those stems, students merely asked, “Ms. Var, what do you want?” which was completely not what I was going for! I let them know, “It’s not about me, it’s about you and what worked and didn’t work for you as a writer and a learner!”

In addition, a Google Forms Exit Ticket was given as an opportunity to see how well the whole process worked, and areas of improvement that I could target next time.

Here were the questions: Screen Shot 2016-11-20 at 6.54.23 PM.png screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-6-54-35-pm

I decided to keep each period’s data separate, mostly so that I could target need areas  per each class of students and tailor my future changes individually versus overall. Interestingly enough, they all had similar comments regarding the process, so that was eye opening.

According to my period 7, the editing sessions and peer feedback were helpful, as was the use of technology, since this was our first timing really using it in our class this year!

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Period 2 said:

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In addition, I asked what would have made the process better:


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Per my reading in the following Edutopia article, Including Student Voice, which discussed in a positive way, shifts in teacher and student roles, I realized how critical it is not just to ask students how they’d like to see things occur, but to follow up and ask how they think it went and what could have been done better. Instead of the teacher making all of the critical decisions, students get to weigh in on how things are done and have a say in how learning happens in the classroom (Palmer, 2013).  This really helps me to plan and Act for next time, as as much as we all weighed in on what would happen, nothing is as informative as hindsight. For students to understand that their “… expertise, opinions and ideas are valued in all aspects of school life,” the classroom becomes more of a creative an innovative space where teachers and students are both contributors in the learning process (Palmer, 2013). As a teacher, I had the opportunity  to seek student input prior to the process, but more importantly, get their feedback on next steps and what they would like to see with regard to improvements in our future learning opportunities.

The last piece of the puzzle will be putting out a parent survey to see how the process impacted them, although many students are still in the process of deciding who their “outsider” will be, so I will decide how I will elicit feedback from them depending on the outcome.

So far, in my Act portion of the process, I realized a couple of big things. One, time is of the essence and I wish we had more of it. Students even commented that they wish we had more time to go through each step. But, the good news is that the next time we edit and provide feedback, it will go so much more smoothly as a result of this first dive in the deep end of the technological pool. I think that prior knowledge alone will buy us more time. This time, we were all kind of learning and growing together, and as a result, the amount of time I normally set aside for this type of learning experience was not enough.

I also realize, despite my letter explaining to parents that when providing feedback, we don’t just want an editor, but rather an outsider to share in the joy of the memory and make comments regarding the strengths in the writing or suggest things to change, like where to add more detail or how to make a more solid hook. I noticed that many parents want to just jump in and correct grammar, spelling and punctuation, which is very eye opening, as students want to do the same! It makes me feel like as a society, when we comment, that’s what’s engrained in us to fix. With technology and spell check and all of the newfangled ways to fix up the conventions, instead what we need to do is provide that human experience that ties to the emotional side- laughter and tears -and what makes a piece of writing really speak to the reader. This is probably my biggest challenge in this process and as a result, I know that the more that we practice effective, quality feedback, the better kids will get. I also know how important it is to get that feedback, as when putting ourselves out there as writers, we want to put forth our best work, and thus, the role of the editor is key.

In doing some additional reading, I came upon the following online version of the book, Peer Assisted Learning, edited by Keith Topping and Steward Ehly, which speaks about the importance of really giving students a chance to practice their editing skills (1998). In the section that I read from the book  entitled “Peer Editing”  I was glad to find that this process is one that does take time to perfect and that multiple opportunities to teach students how to give specific feedback are needed, since students tend to be inexperienced in delivering the type of suggesting that are helpful to their peers. The book recommends giving students a chance to run through practices with exemplars as anchor pieces, which I did do, but if I had it to do again, I would have had the students co-construct a “feedback” rubric with me to identify what quality versus vague feedback looks like, and practice with something more specific that we all had a share in creating. This common language might have helped, since despite numerous run throughs, I still got a lot of “add a period” or “needs a comma”… and not much else…sigh…

It dawned on me, in the process, that perhaps, the word “editor” should be replaced all together. Maybe “change agent” would have more effectively conveyed what we are doing. All working together, to grow, change and become the best version of ourselves, one step at a time. Next time, I think I will avoid the word “edit” all together!

I want to thank Dr. Katie Martin for the opportunity to take part in this process. First and foremost, I got going with technology and got over my fear of the unknown and did it! Secondly, I became a learning partner with my students, and that was an amazing thing for teacher and student in the room to become one in the same. I also got to see that students really care about putting forth a quality piece of work, particularly when that voice and choice component is there. Students chose their topics and who would provide feedback. The less I preplanned what was going to happen, and really just sat back and waited to see where the adventure would take us, the better it became, with everything from co-constructing and adding to the Springboard rubric that had many “pukas” or holes in it, to how we’d roll out the editing  and feedback process, to who would edit and how to improve next time.

More than anything, I’m looking forward to our next steps. I feel like I started by dipping my toe into the pool, and now I’m ready to dive head first into the waters of change, and see where the tides continue to take me. It’s such a good feeling, after 18 years of teaching, to be this excited again! dare to teach.jpg

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