Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Write in the Middle
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Write in the Middle
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Workshop 7: Responding to Writing: Peer to Peer

Key Practices To Observe in Workshop 7

In this workshop, you will see effective practices for helping students respond to each other as writers. These practices include the following:

  • Teachers recognize that peer conferences not only contribute to better writing but also validate students and build respect and responsibility in a community of writers. Teachers carefully create conditions for peer conferences in which the students feel safe as writers and as respondents. The workshop shows students engaged in their work as writers, participating in a positive atmosphere.
  • Through peer response, students experience an authentic reader of their writing, a reader other than the teacher and a reader who is important to them. This experience stimulates students' interest in writing—and in revising. It also helps students develop reader awareness, an important skill in writing.
  • In peer conferences, students focus on their drafts and try to improve them; however, the teachers' goals are not merely to help the students develop better pieces of writing but also to help students develop as writers. Teachers' explanations focus on strategies and skills that students can apply when writing other pieces. The practices used in the peer conferences help students gain more independence in their thinking about writing. Though students in a small-group peer conference focus on the work of one author, the discussion indirectly helps the other students as they apply ideas to their own writing.
  • Peer conferences are organized in different ways—for example, whole-class response to a peer, small-group response (three to four students), response between writing partners, and teacher-mentored small-group response. Sometimes teachers determine the groups, and sometimes students decide with whom they will work. Partners or groups may work together for a relatively long period of time, or the make-up of the group may vary. Even in classes led by highly experienced teachers, problems occur in groups, and teachers, as well as students, may change the groups to help students.
  • Teachers establish a methodical procedure for peer conferences. They model response and conduct mini-lessons on how to respond effectively and with respect. They also schedule regular times for students to share their writing with each other. Routines may vary, but a typical approach is for the student author to read the draft aloud and raise specific questions. Students may record their responses on a feedback sheet or sticky note and refer to these notes as they discuss the work with the author. In their responses, classmates identify what they think is going well and address the author's questions. To preserve the writer's ownership of his or her work, classmates phrase their responses in terms of possibilities for change. As peers discuss a piece, the writer often takes notes to help with revision. The writer may end the exchange by explaining plans for change.
  • As students work together on their writing, the teacher circulates, asks questions, offers suggestions, and listens. Sometimes, the teacher calls attention to a student's work and asks the student to read and talk about changes and the advice offered by classmates. Mini-lessons often are based upon what teachers observe in peer conferences.
  • Teachers often model response by reading a piece they have written themselves, and then leading the students in responding to the draft. Teachers are genuine in asking questions about their work. They listen carefully and often emphasize principles and language that can help students work with their own writing. Teachers also model a positive attitude; they are not defensive when advice is offered, and they demonstrate that writers consider the views of readers but also assume ownership of their work. In modeling their writing, teachers often use the overhead projector and/or provide copies, so that students not only hear the work read aloud, but also see and read it themselves. Students, too, can be asked to model for the class, reading their drafts aloud and asking for response.
  • Aware of the pressure students usually feel in responding to each other, teachers take steps to reduce the pressure or risk in a peer conference. Modeling and establishing a routine are important ways to help students feel less pressure and be more open in discussing writing. Teachers often arrange classroom furniture to foster discussion. One of the most important ways to reduce the pressure is for the teacher to affirm students' accomplishments in peer conferences. The workshop showcases students who enjoy their experience in writing and in talking with classmates about writing. Teachers consciously foster such a positive experience.
  • Teachers do not assume that students automatically will be effective in peer conferences. They intentionally coach the students, they conduct mini-lessons, and they also set aside time to help students reflect on conferences. These discussions call attention to the results of revision based on peer conferences. Teachers affirm the value of writing, and help students practice a "writer's language," which helps students think about their own writing.

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