Reframing Student Work as Best Intentions: Reflection as a Pedagogical Tool

Paul Smith, our fabulous new Senior Level English Teacher, is the kind of new community member that so easily and quickly became a part of the fabric of our school that it feels like he’s been here forever. So it didn’t come as a surprise when he shared a fabulous teaching strategy the other day, and it became my goal in life to connect it to our “best intentions” theme  so I could include it in our September blog blast. 🙂 It may be a stretch, but here goes:

I have a theory.  Every time a student does a paper, a worksheet, a project, a performance, an art piece, it represents (at least a form) of their best intentions. (Note that I didn’t say “best work” . . . best intentions don’t always represent a living-out of our most shiny manifested hopes.)  Our feedback/critique/assessment/grade can help students understand the ways in which their best intentions measured up to the goals at hand. And most importantly, they can help our learners progress a step or two the next time around.  

For some reason, that seems like a helpful nugget to keep present in the corner of my mind as I grade tests and provide feedback on first drafts. “This represents this student’s best intentions.” 

I wish I could go back in time and share this with my dad.  In my growing up years, at certain times of the school year, I would note him scowling at the dinner table. “Don’t worry, honey,” my mom explained. “He’s in the middle of grading exams.” My dear father, who was an incredible professor and cared more about his students than anyone I’ve ever known, would get progressively more and more furious as he graded his electrical engineer students’ tests, particularly when the results weren’t what he had hoped. Maybe thinking of student work as their “best intentions” would have helped those poor marks feel less to him like a personal insult and more like a roadmap for the next few weeks of class. 

But I digress.  

Paul does NOT get furious as he grades student work.  Instead, he understands the power of feedback (in green, not red pen) and he recognizes that students need space and time to make sense of that feedback and apply it to their practice. So, he leverages a meaning-making tool (yay writing!) and has them WRITE a paragraph about their WRITING! It’s totally meta and it totally works. (Not to mention, it totally fixes the “I spent hours on providing feedback on their essays and then found them unread and crumbled on the floor” conundrum.)  Check out how he framed the assignment and how Sandra Crowder and Grant Worsley took up the invitation to reflect on their best intentions below.  Then, feel free to steal the idea and adapt it to your context!

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