Driver’s Ed

Adobe Stock ImageIt’s amaz­ing that I passed my driver’s test on the first try, since I can see now that I was a pret­ty bad dri­ver. But I was an excel­lent test-tak­er, and the State of Min­neso­ta sent me home with a score of 96 out of 100. Mere weeks lat­er I backed the fam­i­ly van into the mailbox.

It’s not that my par­ents didn’t try their best to improve my dri­ving skills. In fact, they each logged enough hours of behind-the-wheel train­ing with me that I learned to trans­late their two very dif­fer­ent approach­es to cor­rec­tive feedback.

My mother’s pri­ma­ry feed­back was to ini­ti­ate the fol­low­ing sequence when I made a dri­ving mis­take: 1) make a hor­ri­fied face, 2) suck air in wet­ly over her teeth, 3) clutch the dash­board, and 4) stomp her foot onto an imag­i­nary passenger’s side brake.

My father was more ver­bal, but prone to under­stat­ed com­men­tary such as: “Did you hap­pen to notice that was a red light you drove through?”

It’s hard to find just the right way to give some­body help­ful feed­back. And it’s just as tricky an issue when it comes to giv­ing stu­dents feed­back on their writing.

Praise for what is work­ing well is always a good start­ing point. But then I also try to pro­vide some­thing con­crete that stu­dents can work to improve. Lead­ing ques­tions are a great tool for this: queries such as, “How could you help read­ers bet­ter under­stand the character’s prob­lem?” or “Can you make the read­ers feel more like they’re inside the set­ting of the story?”

You also want to avoid impos­ing your own voice over the student’s voice. The key is to remain in the role of edi­tor rather than “re-writer.” I point out where changes could improve the writ­ing, but then give stu­dents some room to learn to rewrite for themselves.

It’s total­ly tempt­ing to stomp on the brake your­self, and just tell them how you would do it. But if you do that too many times, they might nev­er learn how to dri­ve with­out you in the car.

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