When Strategy Meets Principle

Who doesn’t love a Post-it note? Environmentalists may shudder at the waste, but I happen to adore the note’s compact size, convenient adhesive strip, and catchy colors. I particularly like the pink ones. Experienced teachers, educational researchers, and graduate students can tell you Post-its are handy for all kinds of study strategies that increase comprehension. Post-its beat out a yellow highlighter any day.

I also find them handy when working with students on writing. The Post-it‘s compact size helps students be metacognative in writing conferences. I ask students to write a few questions for me and to indicate what elements of their writing will need my attention during our 5-10 minute conference – organization of ideas, language and word choice, quality of analysis, punctuation, transitions, conclusion, etc. Since even one idea can fill up a Post-it, they can help students feel more confident about their thinking.

Now for the best part….Last month I discovered that Post-its are perfect for practicing Brother’s Keeper! Actually, they are perfect for peer critique of student work, but Brother’s Keeper* and peer critique are one in the same!

An example:

My students came to class with completed projects – large-scale analysis papers written on poster board – and hung the work up around the room. I asked students to refer to the project descriptions as they walked around in small groups to make comments on each other’s work using… wait for it, you guessed it… Post-its. In the first round, the juniors chatted with each other and left rather superficial notes focused on surface features such as how the project used white space. I could walk around and read the low level of Brother’s Keeper they practiced with each other. These kids clearly needed to reinvest in each other’s best.

As they settled in, I began reading some of the feedback aloud. “It looks good.” “I like it.” “Cool colors.” I re-read the core project descriptors aloud, and I asked if anyone had commented on the quality of an author’s summary or on the strength of the quotes chosen to illustrate the argument. All admitted they had focused mostly on surface features such as spacing and including the assigned number of points.

I taped a copy of the project descriptors up next to each project, put out some more Post-its and sent everyone back to work alone this time – no conferring. The feedback improved. Now they commented on the summary, the quote choice, and the connections between the two. They used phrases such as “thorough,” “detailed,” “don’t see how these fit,” and “I used the same point, but you found different quotes.” When student authors went back to read over the Post-its, they could see their peers commenting on the strengths and the weakness in their work.

The punch line:

Developing the principle value of Brother’s Keeper within the school culture requires that students have opportunities to respond honestly and courageously to what they see in their peers. Peer critique of student work, like the kind we did with Post-its, supports the work of the school leadership as they challenge students to test Brother’s Keeper in more significant areas of students’ lives. The humble Post-it offers a compact and catchy venue for rehearsing academic Brother’s Keeper in preparation for the big time.

*One of five Hyde School principles defined – “We help others achieve their best”