Admit it. You don’t spend nearly enough time allowing students to give and receive feedback on drafts of their written work because you feel the need to maintain some level of “quality control” around what happens during these exchanges. You’re guilty. All of us are at some point, I think.
New writers are not often able to provide the sort of feedback that is helpful to others for a number of different reasons, including the following:
They don’t know what feedback really is. Unless students receive a consistent level of quality feedback from their teachers on their own work, asking them to provide it to others is a dicey proposition. Young writers who haven’t received quality feedback themselves tend to follow our lead by saying things like good job, I like your story, nice work, and you spelled some stuff wrong. Which is really frustrating. I know. I was one of those teachers a while back.
They don’t know how to use evidence to provide criteria-based feedback. Introducing the Traits of effective writing to students, using rubrics as instructional tools to build a common language around the criteria of effective writing, and asking students to use this information to provide feedback to others tends to help substantially.
They are too kind or too harsh. Unless we model the processes that we would like students to engage in, it is difficult for them to know what they really “look like.” Some young writers approach conferences much like cheerleaders, while others position themselves as fierce critics. Coaching students to provide real feedback requires a bit of demonstration, I find.
They don’t use their time well. Writers need a process to move through when we ask them to conference. Not just any old process. A process that they might invest themselves in, because they leave it feeling rewarded. In my work with young writers, we use an adapted version of the peer review process that was introduced to me by Giselle Martin Kniep through my work with Communities for Learning. You can access that document right here: peer_review.
These are some of the greater issues that we confront when we team kids up to offer each other feedback, but I predict that there is more going on beneath the surface of these exchanges. I don’t think that kids are comfortable sharing their work or providing honest criticism to their peers. I also wonder about the narrowed perspectives provided by the writers we may teach. Any feedback that they may offer is colored by our perceptions of what good writing is, our attention to targeted skills that we’ve deemed most necessary, and the cultures of our classrooms and communities. Participating in a virtual peer-review is far less threatening to some than engaging face-to-face might be, and soliciting feedback from young people who are writing all over the world provides kids with a far wider lens than we will ever be able to give them. The fact that the article linked above was written in 2003 might suggest that more than a few kids have already doing this in a thousand different ways on their own for years now. So if you haven’t done so already, consider visiting some of these communities and think about how your students might begin growing as writers within them:
- Protagonize allows writers to create and engage around writing with over 5,000 other authors.
- Writing With Writers is hosted by Scholastic and teachers that I know enjoy sending students here.
- Critique Circle seems more appropriate for older writers. Members control their own safety features here.
- Wordtrip Jr. is a smaller community, and I’ve been told that newbies will feel right at home here.
This post is the fourth in a series focused on a writing instruction. You may access the others here: