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Descriptive Feedback Helps All Students Reach Proficiency

Eleventh-grade ELA teacher Susan McCray from Casco Bay High School in Portland, ME, supports all students in reaching writing standards through descriptive feedback.

This video accompanies the book Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools through Student-Engaged Assessment.


- Would someone be willing to read the targets for us? Let’s remember our targets. Mo, read the long-term targets.

- I can write a quality oral history.

- The beauty of standards-based grading is that students understand what they’re trying to accomplish, and they have multiple opportunities to meet that standard.

- Oh, and then how does the narrative support this.

- First, we’re super clear about the standard. So you know though, Thursday is the summative assessment deadline for both standards now, quality writing, ‘cause you’re continuing work on the quality writing, and writing process. Then we translate it into language that students can understand.

- I can use my feedback effectively to identify changes to make and to revise my oral history.

- [Susan] Then we can give models and eventually end up with a lot of really good descriptive feedback that helps kids both know what the target is and know how to get themselves to the target.

- A couple weeks ago we went to West Virginia, and we worked with Habitat for Humanity, and we also interviewed community members. Today we were handed back our first drafts, and we got feedback on what we did good and what we did wrong. Right now we’re looking at that feedback and deciding what changes we need to make to make it the best possible piece.

- So look at where you’re at on those. Look through the comments, and then take a stab at your entrance ticket which is asking you to do two things. I use entrance tickets almost everyday. It’s always related to the targets. The targets are listed, and it’s to get them thinking about the objective for the day, and what they need to do to accomplish that work. So listen to Bri and think about what specifically is she doing that’s helping to hit these two strands.

- After being welcomed into our home for the second time.

- In this case, I wanted them to listen to the models, be able to think about the specific objective of the day, so their brain is practicing what they’re gonna need to do during the lesson. Nice, Sydney.

- She really went after description of every move they made.

- [Susan] And then they applied that to the work that they received back.

- [Female Student] How’d you do?

- All right, got approaching accepted. Do quite a lot more.

- I’ve been working really hard to figure out structures that allow me to get to more kids and help everyone move forward to hit the standard. I offer three things to students. First, really good descriptive feedback on their writing, and that’s about using the rubric effectively. So kids themselves can interpret that and move forward themselves.

- She highlighted the areas on the rubric right here, and she just said setting, describe the home to me.

- Transitions are choppy and some descriptive details and still hard to visualize or know the person and place.

- Let’s take a couple minutes. Ms. Harr and I can move around and make sure you understand our handwriting. When I look at their papers and see what they need, I develop mini-lessons. Then, I’m just gonna take a few of these clusters and try to focus on these particular pieces, while others can stay and just work and be quiet, and Ms. Harr can help.

- I decided to go out to the great space to work in a smaller group with Ms. McCray because it would be more hands-on than whether if I just stayed here by myself. That’d be in essence?

- Yeah, absolutely. So you know what it is.

- [Male Student] I wasn’t really sure what I had to do, but I have a much clearer sense about it.

- [Susan] Clearly I have to leave time for some one-on-one because there’s always that nuance piece. But now because they’ve had the mini-lesson, they’ve had my feedback, those are shorter conversations. Those I can go right to it and figure out what you need and help you get over that hump.

- When I get something back I always just look directly at my teacher’s feedback, but then later on I found out I needed a bit more guidance, so I went off and asked the teacher because in real life, when I’m writing a brief essay in college, I’m not gonna have a teacher going down my neck. Here it’s very normal to go off to a colleague or a teacher and ask them for help. I’m gonna be by myself, so I need to learn how to do that, and that’s something I’ve been learning.

- For the oral history summit that we’re working on now, their draft number one is listed here in quality writing. It’s in the book. It’s in the grade book. I have a space ready for when I grade their draft number two. Then there will be a draft number three and a final standard grade.

- So far I’ve been scored as a two plus, which means I’ve followed some of the meet’s categories through this rubric, but I’ve also haven’t hit some of these key parts on the meets.

- People are approaching the standard. They’re not hitting the standard yet. That doesn’t matter. In the end, if they trend up, they have a significant body of evidence, they show me they can meet that standard, then that’s the grade they get overall for the standard.

- I am confident I’ll be able to get to a three.

- I’m on track to passing.

- Well in the end, everybody will get a three or a four because it’s just not really an option for kids to slip by. They’re always teachers here willing to help and wanting to help, and it just doesn’t happen that kids will get a one on a project and not change it.

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