I’ve read hundreds of education books over the past 25 years. Most I nod at and say, “Hey, that was good.”

This one, Balance with Blended Learning, was one that shook me up–in the most awesome way possible.

Maybe part of it is who I am as a person and teacher. As an English/Language Arts teacher, I feel overwhelmed trying to give student feedback. I know they need frequent and timely feedback. I know they need frequent writing opportunities.

I also know I have a ton of non-classroom responsibilities–class sponsor, play director, Twitter chat moderator, doctoral student–and while some of them are my own undertaking, I don’t want to give them up. These are all things that make me a better teacher and a better colleague.

That’s where Catlin Tucker’s newest book comes in. I’ve long been a fan of blended learning and integrating technology into the classroom, but the prospect of cutting down on giving feedback and assessing work outside of class hours (which induces an enormous amount of stress for me) is thrilling.

Plus, Catlin’s approaches focus on standard-based grading. For the past couple of years, I’ve been working hard to focus more on grades at the end of a unit and via student conferences, so her grading approaches also meshed well with my philosophy.

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways:

  1. Side-by-Side Assessments. Catlin assesses her students when they are sitting right next to her. She reads through their work, thinking aloud for them, and uses a hard copy of the rubric (provided well ahead of time) to assess their work.  The key is to keep these conferences to a few minutes, and that means focusing on a limited number of standards/objectives. Catlin warns that this can be an adjustment; it’s easy to lose track of time, so it takes practice. In the long run, students get more out of that few minutes than they do out of comments in the margins that you spent 15 minutes writing.
  2. Student Self-Assessment & Reflection. This comes before the Side-by-Side Assessments. Students complete their own copy of the rubric for that assignment. I also had the idea of having students use Google comments to highlight specific parts of their work to highlight how their writing or work reflects each bullet point on the rubric.
  3. Station Rotation for In-Progress Feedback. The best feedback comes during writing; once a student is done writing, it’s much harder to encourage them to revise and change. Catlin both describes and gives visual examples of how to set up station rotation so that she can provide feedback at one of those stations. Again, she admits it’s not always easy. Teachers need to be focused when they’re with their 5-8 students and narrow in on only 1-2 objectives (such as thesis or using evidence) when giving feedback. It’s easy for us to see a mechanical error or a missing transition and not comment on it, but we also need to remember that students can’t handle lots of feedback at once. Choose the 1-2 standards for that day and focus on those.

Trust me, those represent only a few of the strategies to not only help teachers find balance, but to also motivate students, improve their reflection abilities, and help them become more autonomous. This is a book that’s not just about teachers–it’s a book that can also grow students’ metacognitive and executive function skills, too.