December Graider of the Month: Andrew Martin

I am pleased to announce our December Graider of the Month, Andrew Martin. Andrew is a freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign majoring in English with a minor in Secondary Education. He is a top Graider, consistently earning high marks from high school English teachers across the country. In fact, one teacher recently raved, “Andrew is a KEEPER! He did an EXCELLENT job with the comments. He now holds the record for "BEST COMMENTS EVER" because they were so detailed and useful.” W-o-w! Andrew started the semester as a talented Graider, but he has shown measurable growth and development over the past 3 months. We couldn’t be more proud of his progress and his most recent teacher review is certainly a ringing endorsement of his excellent work.

At UIUC, a Secondary Ed minor is 42 credit hours with extensive fieldwork and student teaching requirements all fit inside only the Junior and Senior years, so it’s a quite a commitment. I asked Andrew why he was pursuing this challenging degree and what sparked his passion for education, and he has quite a different story than many aspiring teachers. It wasn’t until his junior year of high school - just two years ago - that Andrew had his “a-ha” moment. He always loved English and took countless honors and AP classes, but as he began helping friends and classmates outside of the classroom with their writing, he realized how much he enjoyed sharing his passion and helping other people learn to love and understand English. Never before had he thought about teaching as a profession, but Andrew suddenly realized it was something he valued, something he was good at, and something he deeply enjoyed doing.

Although he is only halfway through his freshman year, Andrew is already getting his feet wet in the classroom - which is a very different experience to peer editing.  This past semester he worked at the Urbana Adult Education Center, where students can earn no-strings-attached diplomas from Urbana High School through a self-paced curriculum program. Working as an as-needed tutor, Andrew engaged with adults of all ages and ability levels. The most challenging thing? “Trying to help everybody! In a K-12 classroom, many students are reading and writing on different grade levels, but this was an even larger range of abilities. Plus, you’re working with different adults every week so you don’t have the benefit of building an ongoing relationship. It taught me to stay on my toes and be dynamic. It was a tough but fun challenge.”

Andrew also gained experience working with a number of 11th and 12th grade English teachers through The Graide Network this year. Prior to working as a Graider, Andrew had never used a rubric. “I was good at revising and editing work and coaching my classmates, but I’d never given a structured, rubrics-based grade before. It was really fun to learn how to read and apply the rubric and give feedback that was rubric-specific so that students could easily understand my comments without further clarification.” This was a great lesson. To be effective, feedback must be understandable to the learner - so Andrew learned to forgo shorthand and hone in on each student’s paper to deliver feedback that was personalized, specific and clear - in short, feedback that could be effective without a follow-up meeting or discussion. Andrew learned to point out specific examples of what each student was doing well or what they need to work on further. This granular, actionable feedback is hugely beneficial for students and teachers.

Not only is Andrew one of our most effective Graiders, he’s also one of our most efficient. So how does he manage to deliver such speedy, high-quality feedback? “Prep work. I take my time setting up the assignment, reading and understanding the rubric and guidelines from the teacher, and making sure I have all the information I need to fully understand the teacher’s expectations. I go slower when grading the first few students, but then the time per student drops as I’m able to make quicker judgements and have a baseline for my feedback.” We love this approach! Andrew’s other tip? Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. “One of the most challenging things is when the teacher isn’t completely clear or the directions are confusing.” In situations like this, it’s always best to reach out to the teacher directly to make sure you’re on the same page.

So what’s next for Andrew? Any day now he’ll be finding out if he’s been accepted as a Golden Apple Scholar, a prestigious scholarship program in Illinois for first and second-year college students who have the “promise and drive to be excellent teachers in high-needs schools.” Andrew is excited to continue his studies and get more experience in the classroom. He hopes to be “the type of teacher and mentor that you remember”, who brings fun, creativity, and excitement to the classroom so students enjoy learning. Classmates and friends have already recognized Andrew’s unique ability to inspire and engage students, and while we can’t predict the future, we are confident that Andrew will be an amazing teacher one day.