Writer’s workshop

Comparing video and written comments through flash feedback

By Sarah Petty

What is flash feedback?

Flash feedback focuses on one to two learning objectives, with students rather than teachers doing the heavy lifting. It is effective with common technology tools and functions such as Command-F (the find function) and Google comments. It includes a plan for students whose learning needs require additional support beyond the teacher’s established flash feedback structure/system. For more see Matthew Johnson’s “Flash Feedback: How to Provide More Meaningful Feedback in Less Time,” at cultofpedagogy.com/flash-feedback

In my five years of teaching reader’s and writer’s workshop, I realized through student challenges and successes that the instruction of reading among teachers is undoubtedly a core focus. It is highly valued, as it should be. Reading is an essential component of developing and strengthening literate, 21st-century learners. However, in our avid love to develop avid readers, the shaping of expert writers can at times be overlooked. I decided to take on a pilot of writer’s workshop flash feedback as my action research to investigate further. It was just one project of four in my school administrator certification program, and from the start, it was clearly my project “baby.”

I love writing—both as a teacher and personally. I believe that strong readers can be strong writers and vice versa. To me, writing seemed a daunting task for many students because it is all about generating ideas, creating something rather than thinking about something already prepared in the form of a book or story. Whether true or not, students seemed to perceive writing as a more complex process that required more engagement than reading. 

Yes, even the reluctant reader could look at a book and determine that reading is important, as they have been reminded for much of their school experience. But writing? Whether they were supporting an argument, building an informational piece, or drafting a narrative, I understood why being a purposeful writer was an enigma for many sixth graders (and beyond). Even students not identified by teachers as academically struggling appeared perplexed or frustrated by the writing process. This seemed true despite our district meeting annual targets for state testing in grades 6-8.

Surveying colleagues

To explore the ideas and experiences writing teachers had when providing feedback to students, I asked them to complete an anonymous survey over Google Forms. This was prior to my classroom pilot. Here’s what I learned:


  • Teachers indicated regular, independent conferencing with students about their writing, with the majority of teachers conferencing three to four times a week.
  • Twenty-five percent indicate that they use flash feedback, “with only two types of specific rubric-aligned comments for the whole class,” showing familiarity with the process.

Areas for improvement:

  • Only 13.3% of respondents said they track their conferencing work with students electronically.
  • None report using student-to-student feedback through comments on Google Docs. 
  • None report using Google Forms to survey students about a piece of writing. 

These areas for improvement presented opportunities for how technology could be integrated to strengthen feedback during the writing process.

Staff surveys were vital to my research. They showed that the problem statements of my project had actionable steps to implement because they matched staff beliefs and experiences about students in writing class.

Our students are capable writers but were not implementing their feedback efficiently, despite teachers providing a wealth of feedback and using a streamlined process for writing workshop procedures such as conferencing and tracking notes. This seemed to leave writing teachers just as frustrated as their students, who were not using feedback to strengthen their writing.

Video and written feedback rounds

In applying research into practice, students were given three rounds of feedback in my writing classes for three of their personal narratives. This was done from October to December 2020. Round one was video feedback, given by me. Round two was written feedback, given by our district literacy coach. Round three was student choice of video or written feedback from me.

In writing class, my students write a place narrative, an object narrative and a person narrative. I gave video feedback using Screencastify videos between one to three minutes long. For each student, I made sure to use the classic feedback sandwich: starting with positive comments, then offering constructive comments, and ending with more positive comments that were either add-ons to earlier feedback or repeating the strengths I already shared with the student. 

I recorded both my voice and face, with the students’ individual writing pieces on the screen to highlight and reference throughout. I found the experience surprisingly refreshing, particularly in the pandemic. While in-person conferencing was no longer viable, all students received this video feedback from me and knew when to anticipate the first and last rounds.

I used the principles of Johnson’s article, “Flash Feedback: How to Provide More Meaningful Feedback in Less Time,” to focus on just one or two learning objectives; namely, giving students feedback only on the elaboration strand of their narrative writing, using the Lucy Calkins workshop rubric (see Page 24). 

For some students, organizational errors were important to address when they limited students’ abilities to elaborate effectively or to complete the narrative assignments, so I also provided organization strand feedback as needed. If a student’s work was incomplete, as a few were, I made sure to let them know in video feedback any positives I could draw from what they did write, and how the elaboration skills of sensory details, actions, inner thinking, and dialogue would help them in the future to write a strong narrative. 

The student experience

Probably my favorite part of the project was hearing student experiences with our feedback rounds. Using Google Forms, I gave students a survey following their first and second personal narratives. The survey asked students to rate the feedback they received through video and through written comments, to identify categories on the Calkins rubric they were given feedback on, and to rate their willingness to revise future writing based on the feedback they received. 

At the end of the unit, I surveyed students again over Forms. They were asked to rate the choice feedback they received (video or written) and to again identify the Calkins rubric categories they were given feedback on. This time, I required students to make revisions on their third writing piece, the person narrative, after reviewing their feedback.

The survey asked how happy they were to make revisions to their third narrative, and to identify the Calkins rubric category they revised for. Finally, students were given a “final vote” and space for a long answer
to explain their feedback preference between video and written comments. The last question asked them to rate their experience of being given choice for the type of feedback they received. 

The following chart summarizes how students described video versus written flash feedback:

Preferable because the part that needs improvement is highlighted and easier to see to make revisions.Easier to understand through hearing it aloud and seeing the teacher. When given various examples, students can see what the teacher means.
Preferable because written feedback helps students whose learning styles focus on reading the work themselves.Preferable because the teacher is “directly talking just to me”—students feel it’s individualized.
Preferable for students who want to go at their own speed when reviewing or revising .Preferable because videos fit the students’ learning styles.
Written comments may be misunderstood if the
student doesn’t understand the meaning behind the teacher’s words.
A video may move too quickly for students’ pacing and if a part is misunderstood it will not help students to revise.
Sometimes less is understood on paper. A video can be inconvenient with switching tabs or having to go back to a part in the clip.

Student writing samples from colleagues

A broader collection of student writing samples was incredibly helpful during the project. To further inform my research and data collection, I wanted to look at flash feedback beyond my sixth-grade classroom pilot and involve all building-level teachers in the project.

The strengths and weaknesses revealed by these samples informed the elaboration skills to be emphasized across grade levels, according to Calkins’ grade 6 to 8 rubrics. When sharing results from samples with teachers, we discussed future action steps for vertically aligning elaboration despite the differences in each grade level’s elaboration strand on the Calkins rubric.

Across grade 6-8 teachers, eight student narratives were submitted for the scope of my action research. Teachers were asked to provide one writing piece with a low amount of writing techniques, and one with a medium to high amount of writing techniques.  I analyzed each set of grade-level samples (grade 6, 7, or 8) according to the corresponding narrative rubric. I provided Google Doc comments on the anonymous students’ work, focusing on elaboration. Students did not see these comments-my comments were examples for teachers to potentially review, so they could understand how I analyzed student work. 

On a Google spreadsheet, I tallied the types of comments I made under the elaboration strand. For instance, one strength that was tallied across samples was that students effectively blended narrative techniques. One growth area across samples was using “show, don’t tell” to build character, conflict or theme.

In the end, each grade level was left with a tally of student strengths as well as targeted areas for student improvement. Teachers were reminded that this was based on a small sample and that further investigation could help us learn more about our students’ application of elaboration techniques. 

Sarah Petty is a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Delran Middle School. She can be reached at sarahhpetty@gmail.com.

Problem statement

Through my action research I aimed to find and address the gap between students receiving feedback about their writing and students applying that feedback in the revision process.

I found that students lack:

  • Consistency between reading and writing workshop.
  • An application of writing strategies that foster their ability to rewrite, revise, and enhance their work.
  • Writing stamina, independence, and engagement in writing workshop (perhaps because writing is perceived as a more complex or actively-engaged process than reading).

The Process

Research questions

My action research thus explored three questions:

  1. What is the impact of online feedback tools on students’ application of elaboration skills to their own work?
  2. What is the impact of online feedback tools on student subgroups’ achievement in writing (including students in basic skills and special education programs)?
  3. What is the impact of online feedback tools on students’ engagement in the writing process, including revision?

Calkins’ rubrics on elaboration

Grade 6 strand

  • “I developed realistic characters and developed the details, action, dialogue, and internal thinking that contributed to the deeper meaning of the story.”

Grade 7 strand: 

  • “I developed the action, dialogue, details, and inner thinking to convey an issue, idea or lesson. I showed what is specific about the central character. I developed the setting and the character’s relationship to the setting.”

Grade 8 strand:

  • I developed complicated story elements; I may have contrasted the character’s thinking with his or her actions or dialogue.
  • I developed the central character’s relationship to other characters. I showed character flaws as well as strengths to add complexity. 
  • My details conveyed meaning and related to or developed a lesson or theme.  


Grade 6 rubric: “Units of Study in Argument, Information, and Narrative Writing,” by Lucy Calkins, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Columbia University, Teachers College Reading & Writing Project, Stacey Fell, Alexandra Marron, Kate Roberts, Kathleen Tolan, Maggie Beattie Roberts, Emily Strang-Campbell, Audra Robb, Gerrit Jones-Rooy. heinemann.com/products/e04714.aspx

Grade 7 rubric: “Units of Study in Argument, Information, and Narrative Writing,” by Lucy Calkins, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Columbia University, Teachers College Reading & Writing Project, M. Colleen Cruz, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Columbia University, Audra Robb, Kelly Boland Hohne, Annie Taranto, Gerrit Jones-Rooy. heinemann.com/products/e04715.aspx 

Grade 8 rubric: “Units of Study in Argument, Information, and Narrative Writing,” by Lucy Calkins, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Columbia University, Teachers College Reading & Writing Project, Mary Ehrenworth, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Columbia University, Cornelius Minor, Kate Roberts, Katy Wischow, Julie Shepherd, Audra Robb, Gerrit Jones-Rooy.