“Apologies If My Verbal Comments Stink”

I do not have time to write this at the moment.  I’ve a bevy of AP Lit essays in need of feedback so my glorious students may revise and craft them into works of academic art.  This ‘A-ha!’ moment I just experience was too strong to deny, to keep to myself.

Here’s the body of the e-mail I just now composed and shipped out  to my students:

Hey folks,

So, I’m learning what I like about the verbal comments and what I don’t like.

What I like? That I can explain stuff that’s harder to explain by typing it out.
What I don’t like?  I make a lot less confrontational, a lot less judgmental comments when I’m typing and processing as I type.  Because I’m a verbal processor, I’m often saying imprecise things as I comment and then trying to adjust.  In the end, I’ve spoken for five minutes and I couldn’t written ten times more effective feedback in the same space of time.  And I also can’t read your body language and let me know how I’m doing in terms of clarity.
I’m going to continue using the verbal comments.  However, I’m going to type as my primary form and use the verbal comment tool as needed rather than my initial intentions of using the verbal comments primarily and my written ones in support.
If I come across as “you have to change this because I said so,” please know that isn’t my intention or my style.
Mr Ryder
The subject line: Apologies if my verbal comments stink.
This all came about thanks to a great, a truly great pair of blog posts from Caitlin Tucker and  . . . and . . . argh.  I’m trying to write this in the moment and the gentleman’s name isn’t coming to me and I foolishly, FOOLISHLY, failed to bookmark mark him in my Diigo library.  It was his tweet I saw come across our @wickeddecent feed.  Hunting through my faves didn’t turn it up either.  So now I feel bad about two things: forgetting his name and my voice comments on my students’ work.
My e-mail says it all.  I love the idea of voice comments. I love the idea of flipped classrooms.  I see amazing video lessons and video blogs and hear the quality of work produced by teachers using VoiceThread and KaizenaFB. I know it can work and work well.  And there’s a skill set one must practice and that is the art of articulating your thoughts clearly, succinctly and without the added benefit of body language or empathy.
I found myself taking nearly forty minutes to comment on one of my thirty essays.  That’s not good numbers.  Why so long, Dan? Why not use Caitlin’s great Google tool suggestions?  Oh I will be using those soon, but like any effort to adopt a new habit or system, it takes time.  I thought I’d start with using Kaizena for this round and the automated comments, the next.
Forty minutes. And why?  Because Kaizen is a little glitchy and takes a few refreshes sometimes?  Nope. I know the tool is new and getting its feet under it.  I was prepared for that.
What I was not prepared for was the lack of quality in my verbal comments.  I sputtered and rambled and went round and round.  I sometimes didn’t get to a point and often found myself practicing just awful, AWFUL critical feedback skills.  Phrases like, “You need to…” and “If I were you” and “You don’t” and UGH.  Gross.  Gross nasty habits that I don’t use when conferencing with students, don’t use when workshopping as a class, and that I used to say all the time during my undergrad years a.k.a. No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom era.
Thanks to Carol Dweck I know I can get better at these.  And it’s going to take to take a few bouts with laryngitis and take twos..threes.. sixes and sevens to get me there.
I’m lucky there are quality free tools available to do this audio commentary work.  However, I wonder how much it will cost to have someone on retainer sitting in the room, calling me out every time my constructive criticism devolves into accusatory self-importance.

About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

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