June 5, 2011

Feedback toolkit: the sidebar

The sidebar is not a revolutionary creation; it’s just a simple name I use for a practice many good teachers have been using for decades. A sidebar is a one-to-one teacher-student chat that may or may not be related to a class activity. The sidebar, however, is critical to the success of the ROLETM.

The classroom setting helps with sidebars
The workshop setting that the results-only classroom embraces lends itself to plenty of interaction between the students and the teacher. While my students work, I’m constantly on the move, joining small groups and individuals, a perfect time for the sidebar. Not only do these individual chats provide two-way feedback, they are excellent rapport builders.

Many of my students come from single-parent homes, where the student is responsible for household chores and, in many cases, babysitting a younger sibling, so remaining after school for help is not possible. One-to-one conversations, though, are still necessary. So, rather than invite a student in after school to discuss a project, I handle these chats with sidebars, which can take place in the classroom, in a cafeteria, at a student’s locker or strolling down the hallway. Sometimes, I even pull a student from another class for a three-minute sidebar. Witness the value of the two-way feedback that a sidebar provides in this example:

Shonda’s story
At the beginning of our Reading All Year unit, I deal with numerous reluctant readers; Shonda was one. We were reading books, selected by individual students one day, and Shonda had her head down and was not reading. She was sitting in the back of the room, separate from her group (I allow students to move around during reading time). I knelt beside her desk and whispered, “What’s wrong? Do you feel okay?” Not so long ago, when I used traditional discipline measures, I would have snapped, “Sit up; sleep on your own time.” It may not be a ROLE-only technique, but I’ve learned that kindness goes a lot further than anger, when dealing with students.

“I’m okay,” Shonda responded. “I just don’t like reading.” When promoting individual reading to students who have read very little in their lives, the beginning of a year-long reading project is a delicate matter. “You know what?” I began, “When I was your age, I didn’t like to read either.” I didn’t become an avid reader until I got to college. Shonda sat up, curious about a language arts teacher who wasn’t born with a book in his hands. “It’s true,” I continued. “I was too busy playing with friends and watching TV to be bothered with books. Plus, no one explained the amazing world that books would reveal to me.” This sidebar continued quietly, while others read or whispered about their books. I convinced Shonda to brows our classroom library for something she was interested in. Eventually she settled on a short novel, Monkey Island, and labored to read it over the next three weeks.

When Shonda finished that book, she was eager to tell me she had done so. She wrote the title in our “Celebrating Reading” journal, and I later added it to our web-based slide show, which is played on a large TV outside of our media center for all students to see. Shonda later became one of my class librarians and her interest in reading exploded.

Uncanny success
Nearly four months after our brief sidebar, she lingered after class, waiting for everyone else to leave. She came to me with a broad smile and eagerly announced that she had just finished reading her 17th book. I asked her how many books she had read in a single year prior to that one. “Maybe three,” she said. I certainly can’t take credit for Shonda’s finding the avid reader that was buried inside of her, but a simple chat, in which I shared a personal reading story, may have been just enough to nudge her toward the books.

How do you think you might use sidebars to improve two-way feedback in your own class?

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