Giggles in the back corner. Whispers in the middle. A shifty glance. Knowing nods in the front. 

No, my students are not plotting to mutiny (not today, at least). 

“TRASH IT!” They chorus.

A sticky note gets crumpled and tossed in the recycling bin on my desk. A few students scribble frantically in their notes. 

This is Trash It or Stash It, our favorite feedback game. It’s perfect for feedback on short pieces of writing or ideas. We use it to look at sentence patterns, thesis statements, examples of the rhetorical appeals, correct citations–you name it. Here’s how it works:

  1. This activity should be used AFTER instruction, guided practice, and partner practice. 
  2. Have students anonymously submit one example of their independent practice. They might write it on a sticky note, text it in using Socrative, or use a clicker system for a Smart Board or Promethean. Make sure students also write their work in their notes. 
  3. Review the success criteria. Students should have this in front of them somehow: notes, rubrics, anchor posters, etc. 
  4. One at a time, pull student examples out of the pile (I use a word cloud with my Promethean). Project them for all to see. 
  5. Always start with strengths first. Model identifying what the example does include based on the success criteria. If none of the required elements is present, identify how the example is approaching the criteria. 
  6. Next, address concerns/next steps. How could this example be improved?
  7. Make an overall assessment. Is this example a worthy model of successful, effective, proficient work? If it meets all the criteria, STASH it (save it). If not, wad it up and TRASH it. 

I like to repeat this evaluation process five or so times, calling on students to provide the feedback. I often ask them to justify their thinking. Sometimes they even challenge each other, so we debate. After it’s clear that they understand what the criteria are asking of them, we move faster, simply saying, “trash it,” or, “stash it.” If the reason is something we haven’t yet addressed, I’ll pause and ask for additional feedback or justification. We continue until we have 5-6 strong examples in the stash pile and 5+ weak example in the bin. Very rarely, we’ll go through an entire class’s examples, but my classes run 35-40 students–too many examples to work at once! They love shouting out what to do with the example, and sometimes we have a mini dunking contest to add interest. Often, it’s enough for me to throw examples away rather aggressively (“Miss, that’s so cold!”). Along the way, students should jot down notes to themselves as they hear feedback that might help them improve their own writing. 

Once we’re done evaluating, students add all of the examples to their notes. Now they have authentic student examples for the skill/content, and they understand exactly why those examples meet or exceed expectations. Assessment time! They revise their work based on their understanding and examples. Underneath the revision, they write a brief reflection: Which example do you find most helpful or effective, and why? What did you revise, and why? What questions do you still have, or what help do you need? This becomes an exit ticket, and it contains all kinds of rich information that will help me plan the next lessons. 

One last note before I sign off: obviously, this activity has to be set up in a way that builds students’ confidence in their abilities. That’s why it’s vital that feedback is 1) anonymous and 2) strengths-based. 

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

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