Essay On Teaching And Learning Strategies

I was in my high school’s competitive marching band, and we practiced twice during the week and competed on Saturdays. Our practices during the week consisted of running through portions of the performance over and over and over again. We’d play the same measures, march the same steps until we could do them perfectly every time. Then, on Saturday, we’d perform the whole show … once.

You see, during the week it was OK to mess up. We were coached by our instructors, and provided with feedback, encouragement, and direction. We’d take this feedback to heart and do our best to apply it. Then on the weekend it was show time.

When it comes to schoolwork, we as teachers need to determine if what students are working on is the “practice” or the “big show.” If it’s the big show, then students get one shot to demonstrate what they’re made of. But if it’s practice, then there are some implications for how we use that practice and other teaching strategies for providing feedback, encouragement, and direction.

Part of the “practice” process, I’ve found, is allowing students to revise some of their work. I’d often play wrong rhythms in marching band (I was a drummer) or take a step in the wrong direction, but then I’d get a chance to fix my mistake and learn from it. Revising class work can serve a similar opportunity for learning.

Teaching Strategies:Simple Steps for Revisions

I try to make sure that students understand the opportunity and value of revising their work. I tell them that making mistakes is OK. Trying their best and not getting a perfect outcome is OK. Their current abilities are OK … all as long as they learn.

  1. Give Students Their Assignments Back with Timely Feedback: The first step starts with me. After they complete their work and give it to me, it’s my responsibility to review their work, provide feedback, and assign it a grade. Then I return it to students and allow them time in class to review their feedback.
  2. Tell Students about the Opportunity to Revise: After students review their feedback and their grade, they’re allowed to ask themselves, “Could I do this better?” and “Do I want another shot at doing this?” If they answer yes, then I tell them that they can in fact do the assignment again or make corrections to their work to make it stronger.
  3. They Must Reflect First: Before anything else, my students are required to answer a few questions based on the feedback they received. These questions include items like, “How would you summarize your feedback?” and “What are up to three areas you want to focus on to improve this work?” This allows them an opportunity to practice self-reflection and not immediately rely on a teacher to “Tell them what to fix.”
  4. Students Must Conference with a Teacher: The self-reflective questions they answer are a prerequisite for conferencing with me or another teacher. This helps narrow down the one-on-one conversation and prevents students from saying, “Just look at everything!” I or another teacher then looks at the student’s work and provides targeted instruction focusing on the areas they have identified.
  5. Students Have a Week to Revise: After students have met with another teacher, they have just one week to complete the revision. This new due date helps keep them on track and ensures that they’ll remember the instruction they received during their conference. Then, once students turn in their revised work, I re-grade it. I give them new feedback and a new grade.

A Few Restrictions and Caveats

Of course, this process is not used for every student for every piece of classwork. Here are a few items I take into consideration when deciding when revision is an option:

  • Is the assignment substantial enough to offer more learning and merit revision? I typically reserve revisions for the bigger assignments.
  • Have students put in effort into the original assignment? If a student regularly does poorly on his/her work with the assumption that they’ll revise it later, that’s not OK with me.
  • Does the current curriculum schedule allow for an effective revision process? I can’t offer revision and then cramp students with no legitimate opportunity to complete it.
  • Have the students who revised completed their reflection and conferenced with a teacher? If they jump straight to the revision without these steps, I don’t re-grade it.

Helpful Variations on the Revision Process

There’s more than one way to facilitate revisions. Here are a few other methods you might find helpful:

Find a variety of feedback: Feedback and conferences do not only have to come from teachers. Consider ways you can have students help one another, team up your students with older ones, or even post work online that others in your network can review.

Expand the Self-Reflection: Instead of just asking two questions, sometimes I’ll ask more than a dozen questions that stimulate self-reflection. Here I’ll give students a slate of questions that ask about the process they took to complete their work, their time management and work ethic, their level of comprehension of the task, where they got stuck, how they got unstuck, if they asked for help or used online sources, if they’re proud of their work, if this is their best, and many others. These questions are designed to help students get a 360-degree look at how they produce their work and what they need to consistently do to operate at their own highest level.

Another chance to revise: After students go through the whole process of revision, I’ll ask them if they want to do it again for the same assignment. Would they be willing to take their revision and the new grade and feedback that come with it and be willing to improve it even further? If given the chance, it’s surprising how many of them say “yes.”

When the revision process is completed, the students who volunteered for this option come out a little stronger and more confident. They completed their work, opted for additional feedback, and made adjustments to turn their original into something better. Ultimately, those students come away with a better understanding of their weaknesses and strengths. Plus, when similar tasks come their way in the future, they’re better equipped to successfully tackle them.

How do you do revisions in your class? Tell us your thoughts on the process in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.

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