Constructive Feedback

Chelsea Katzenberg, BHP Teacher
New York, USA

As Big History teachers, we know we’re supposed to assign Investigation 2 at the start of the school year—so we can get a baseline measure of student writing and track its improvement throughout the year. Investigation 2 was  definitely a baseline for my students! I assigned the challenging Big History reading-and-writing assignment right as the school year was getting underway in New York City: Student schedules were being shuffled, other classes were doing light beginning-of-year lessons, and students were working to reorient themselves to the whole “school thing.”

score-comments-rubric

Sample BHP Score Report

The chaos the start of school year made it impossible for me to submit as many Investigations as I might have liked, and certainly not all the submissions were at a stage of completion. Initially, this made me a little hesitant to use the BHP Score results as feedback in class: I was concerned that students who rushed to submit would be disheartened by the results, and that students who didn’t submit in the first place would be disengaged upon not receiving Score results. Despite this, I decided my students should see the results. The in-depth, rubric-oriented feedback the Score reports provide is something I don’t have time to compile myself (as much as I would like to!). And for those students who didn’t submit an essay, I wanted to them to see what they were missing!

Because students hadn’t seen the BHP Writing Rubric prior to submitting Investigation 2, I knew it was important to go over it before handing back the Score results. To make the rubric more manageable (it can be overwhelming for students), we focused on just one section—Constructing an Argument. This helped me home in on the skills I wanted to teach that day. I told students that although I’d like to see them improve in all categories on the rubric (such as Mechanics and Use of Texts), they’d only be graded on our section of focus. Students all assessed themselves on that section of the rubric as well, so that even those who hadn’t submitted knew what to work on. Additionally, I gave each student who didn’t submit their essays another student’s Score report to look at (with the name blacked out), so they’d be eager to submit for Investigation 6.

Students had mixed reactions to the feedback. Some were upset, mainly because they received constructive criticism on elements they hadn’t been instructed to include in their writing (like I said, this data was DEFINITELY a baseline). However, after that initial reaction, I noticed many students looking back and more carefully at their feedback and the rubric. Several students had comments along the lines of, “After I really looked back at what I wrote, I definitely agree with what they said.” Overall, students appreciated having such professional-looking and personalized feedback, and could incorporate it into their revisions.

I’ll certainly use Score feedback in my Big History classroom moving forward. The struggles I had were mainly with my own implementation of the assignment, rather than with the actual feedback. It’s good practice for students to receive assessment from a “neutral” reader; they’re so used to getting feedback from me, it’s helpful to hear it from someone else. My students and I are looking forward to seeing the results from Investigation 6, which they’ll be writing with much greater familiarity with both the skills and concepts of Big History!

About the author: Chelsea Katzenberg teaches in the Bronx, NY, at New Visions Charter High School for the Humanities II. BHP is a required course for tenth graders at her school, and Chelsea teaches five sections of it, all with a world history focus. She loves that Big History encourages her students to ask questions they might never have considered!

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