Friday, February 8, 2013

The Good Stuff

Awaiting my students at their seats today are 3-4 essays written by their peers. I paper clipped the essays to their name cards.

As an aside, I use name cards at desks to rearrange the room every day. Constantly mixing up the seating order creates a sense of community that I am comfortable with. And I find it important in a writing class. Students get to know other students more quickly by sitting with different people each day, and they also find out so much more about each other through various writing activities.

Each student reads the 3-4 essays at his/her desk and leaves at least one positive post-it comment on each essay. It takes 12-15 minutes for the more patient and thoughtful students, and it takes 8-10 for the students who tend to always be in a rush.

As a model, and a guide, I stress the use of the word admire. Create a comment that points out something you admire in the piece. Or, as Katherine Bomer suggests in Hidden Gems:

  1. "Tell your partner, the writer, what his or her piece makes you think about, what it makes you feel, or what it reminds you of from your own life. In other words, what were you thinking while you read it?
  2. Point to places where you think the writing is "good." A place that you admire--that you almost wish you had written yourself.

We use sticky notes to leave our comments. I encourage my students to leave their initials in the corner of the sticky note to ensure a sense of control on my part, as well as to foster another non-threatening connection between young people.

By the way, I also slip my essay into the mix for student feedback...which they like...and I love.

As we roll through all five classes, each student essay should be receiving five distinct positive comments from peers...four from classes and students they may never encounter. I find this simple and efficient activity helps build on the sense of respect we all like see if our kids. Also, the students look forward to the feedback on many levels:

  1. it is fun for them to see who offered them feedback, since it is random
  2. they truly enjoy having the time to read the work of their classmates--they grow into it
  3. they get practice at learning how speak the language of writing and writers
  4. the act of receiving praise and encouragement can not be measured

In order to set this activity up ahead of time, I had the students submit two copies of their most recent. I have an original copy which I will assess and provide separate feedback on, and of course I collect the second copy and set it aside for the next day.

When place the essays out at their desks I try to ensure a mix of class periods among each pile--so the kid who gets his pile during 2nd period class will only read one 2nd period essay at the most.

It takes some management and manipulation with absences, band lessons, and everything else pulling a student from our classes, but I adjust and slide an extra essay into some piles, while also sitting among the students myself and adding post-its on the essays without a home.

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