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  • Dana Clark

Meaningful Digital Feedback

In this technological era where google docs are the typical medium and our classrooms are full of digital natives, online feedback is not foreign to us. We have all been working to find the perfect and beautiful blend of personal interactions and digital reinforcement that can help students to flourish as writers. Many of us are now in a situation where the face-to-face connections are lost, and we may need to refine our digital feedback so that we can provide the necessary support for our young writers. My hope is to share some ways that we can lift the level of our online support and remain true mentors, even from a distance.

The Digital Compliment

As we approach our students’ writing through asset lenses, we are noticing all that students already do to reach their readers. Yet, sometimes when we’re behind a screen, it can be easy to focus solely on what we might offer and lose touch with our honoring work. Knowing that students benefit from reinforcing and naming what works well in their work, we should make sure that our comments are balanced, offering both compliments and possible next steps.

When honoring student work, try phrasing like:

“In this section you…” (name something specific)

“This work really helped me as the reader to…”

“This was important because…”

Ex. "In this part, your choice of precise verbs helps your reader envision exactly the way the character is moving and gives a sense of their emotional state. You can continue to do this in scenes that show deep emotion or anytime you're working to help your reader envision.”

*Tip- Remember to be as specific with your compliments as possible and avoid judgmental language. We are complimenting through the lens of the writer’s audience and how what they’ve done helps their reader rather than what we “love” about their piece.

Digital Next Steps

When offering digital feedback, we must remember that the writing we are looking at is not our own piece to revise. Instead, we are working to support the process of the writer on the other side of the computer screen. Our next steps must be framed as strategies with examples. This will make our comments a bit long but worth the effort because they will be transferable and replicable. When teaching a strategy in a face to face interaction, we’d offer a step by step way to approach the work, show ourselves working through that process, and then coach students as they try it out. Let’s try to take as much of that work as possible for our online comments.

When offering a next step, you might include language like:

“One way you might... (name a skill) is by... (name a process for trying out the skill)”

“It might look like…” (Show a mentor or example)

Ex. “One way you might begin an essay is by naming a human truth. You might ask yourself, “What is my claim?” “How might that idea show up in the world? How might I name that in an ‘in life…’ type of statement?”

Take a look at this example where the author thought about the claim and then made a general opening statement that could appeal to our emotions and humanity.

Expressions of love can take on countless forms. They can show up as tender embraces, words of acknowledgment and adoration, or acts of service. They can be grand gestures planned out for months in advance or simple smiles shared across a table- and sometimes, the greatest expressions of love are unknown even to the receiver. In The Memory String, by Eve Bunting, Jane, step mother to young Laura, shows her deep love for the child in quiet and unconventional ways, giving her the space she needs to heal from the loss of her mother.

*Tip- Keep a few conferring tools at the ready. You will want to grab your curriculum and any other resource that can offer up strategies to offer in your comments. You’ll also want to choose one or two mentors that you know well. This can help you take examples for your teaching points with a bit more ease.

*Tip- Keep the comments to a minimum. When we flood students with too many offerings, we may overwhelm them. It is best to choose just a couple of thoughts and let writers reflect, consider, and try.

Online comments will never take the place of a person-to-person conversation, but we can continue to be thinking partners and mentors when we are thoughtful about how we frame our feedback. I hope this helps you to navigate the world of online learning and feedback.

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