Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Conversations Among  Writing Peers

Examine Your Practice

The teachers and experts appearing in "Conversations Among Writing Peers" have found that even young students can respond helpfully to each other's writing when they are provided clear expectations and support, especially in their first attempts at conferencing. Read the following quote, consider your own students, and answer the questions below.

I think you get different results in peer conferences, depending upon whether you structure the response or not. Just as with anything else, some kind of structure is helpful, especially in the beginning, with students who are just learning how to respond.

The structure in peer conferencing can act like training wheels. The first thing it can do, just as training wheels do, is make it safe. It makes it safe for the writer to share if he or she knows that the first response is going to be a positive response, and then that there are going to be questions, and then they are going to have an opportunity to ask questions. But I would view it as exactly that — as a type of training wheels. And when you feel that students get it, that they feel safe in the conferencing and they feel good about the kind of feedback they're getting and they're able to receive it, then you can remove the training wheels.

And once the training wheels are removed, the structure of the conferences can be negotiated based on what the writer feels he or she needs to hear to take the next steps with a paper and what the students listening to the writing feel is important.

— Jack Wilde

Notebook.

Guiding Questions

Reflect on the excerpt from Jack Wilde and consider your own students. Then write your answers to the questions below in your notebook. If you are working in a group, share your responses.

  • What are your expectations for peer conferences?
  • As student writers become more confident using a prescriptive strategy for peer conferencing, how can you help them learn to seek responses from their peers more spontaneously and independently?
  • How do you measure whether or not a peer conference has been successful?
  • Do all students necessarily move forward at the same rate, and if not, how do you negotiate that some students may be ready and able to work spontaneously and independently while others still need additional scaffolding or skill-building?

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