Critiquing Student Work

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In Fifth Grade, we are finishing an ebook about Roanoke that we have been working on for several months now.
Karin and I collaborated on this and we have been team teaching the unit from the beginning. After the topic of Roanoke was discussed in class, the students met with Karin and brainstormed different topics about Roanoke that they wanted to research.

Ideas and Topics:

• How Long Did the Journey Take?
• What Happened to the Colony?
• Croatoan: Coincidence or Curse?
• Interesting Theories
• Who Led the English Colony? Why Did The English Sail to Find New Land?
• What happened to the colonists when White returned to England?
• Native Americans: Friends or Foes?
• Surviving Roanoke (Food? Life in general? Clothing? Shelter? etc.)

For next step, we let the students choose what they wanted to research (with a little help from us).
Then came the step of actually putting to use what we had taught the students during the unit on the election process. We asked them to search for good websites, bookmark with Diigo, and take notes, which the students did on a Google Doc, so we could all collaborate.
This week, I felt it was time to conference and critique the research that the students had done. A deadline was set and all research was to be completed and ready to present to the class. In other words, a final draft was due.
During the class, we (the class included) went through each student’s work, and Karin and I made suggestions how they could improve their drafts. A lot of the students began to argue with us about the corrections we were asking them to make. Some even made the statement that we, Karin and I, said they had done a good job on past occasions, so they saw no reason to make the new corrections. We tried to explain to the students that a good writer is always trying to improve their writing and that sometimes, the second or third time you read something, you may have ideas to make it better that you didn’t think of earlier. The students were still very upset that we didn’t tell them how “great” a job we thought they had done.
Now here is my question. Why are today’s students so reluctant to constructive criticism? Karin and I were not being punitive when we asked them the go back into their draft and make it the best it can be, were we?
We are planning to publish the ebook and it will be on itunes so we both feel that everything must be perfect and we explained this to the students.
At the end of the session, we made another assignment for the students to go back and correct their work one last time and we gave them two more days. Eight out of eleven students did not bother to do this. I wrote down all of the names of the students who did not do the assignment and made the announcement that points were going to be deducted from their final grade. At that point, the students decided it would be a good idea to cooperate.
Are children today used to only being praised? Are they not expected to learn how to deal with criticism? Maybe Shana is right. Why do we feel the necessity to praise and reward the losers as well as winners? Why can’t students understand that everything they do is not always going to result in a teacher saying, “Good job!” or given an “A” on the assignment?
People are not perfect and we must teach our students that they don’t always do a great or even acceptable job. We must teach accountability or we will raise a bunch of adults who are unable to accept failure. Maybe we should have a sign in each classroom that has the saying, “Failure is the mother of success” so each day the students know it is okay not to know how to do it all. We are ALL learning ALL of the time.
What did I learn from this experience? That I must not only teach the curriculum, but I must teach students to accept the fact that I am not doing my job if I don’t point out mistakes and try to help them to always make their work the best it can be, even if it is not for a global audience. I am not doing the children any favors by praising work where it is not justified.

Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/holeshotstudio/6256654617/

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Teacher-Twenty-One

March 2013
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