Friday, 6 November 2015

Meaningful Comments: Why?


Meaningful commenting is a crucial skill.  Teachers must learn it; students must learn it.  I can't emphasize enough how important this is.  But I'll try.

We all know that feedback reigns supreme over numbers to propel learning. In No Grades: coming to a school near you, I shared a Ruth Butler (1988) study showing the effects of comments over numerical grading.

On both convergent (single answer) and divergent (idea generating) tasks, giving grades or grades with comments didn't just stop the students from improving.  The act actually made students do worse than they did before.  I finished that post with this statement:

Grades seem to beget the need for grades.  They are not as effective as comments in improving learning.  And adding comments to grades seems to be about the worst thing you can do.
- No Grades: coming to a school near you
I think this study, and my own experience, is in the back of my head as we look at developing a school-wide digital portfolio strategy within my school and embark on #FamilyBloggingMonth in November.  Something is keeping me focused on the idea that creating a culture of commenting in a class (and in a school) is crucial.  I don't want to focus on grades vs. comments here.  I thoroughly discuss it in that post.  Here, I just want to discuss how comments fit into the big picture of learning.

Some might be asking: so what are you talking about, Robinson? Feedback on student assignments or blog commenting?

Are they that different?

If the point is learning: a comment is a comment. 

It doesn't matter if it is:
- a teacher commenting on a student work handed in
- another student commenting on a student's work
- a parent writing a comment at the end of a student-led conference

So what can a comment do?

I had my Digital Literacy students do a review of a Science App of their choice.  I am going to use a few of the comments that ensued to illustrate "what a comment can do".  I will let the comments speak for themselves.

A comment can:

Help the reader get more information.

Student to Student

Start a learning conversation
Student to Student

Improve the post

Student to Student
Encourage the student

Parent to Student

Encourage the student to dig deeper
Principal to Student
This is just the tip of the iceberg.  Meaningful comments can do so much.

Simply saying "Great post!" really doesn't extend the learning at all.  So much more can be done when we take the time to make meaningful comments.  I would like to encourage us all to take that time and include more meaningful commenting into our practice.  There's no telling what a comment can do.

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