Writer’s Workshop: Effective Peer Feedback
A few years ago, it would have been hard for me to imagine students saying things to one another in peer review like:
- I wonder of you could dig back into your research to further develop your metaphor.
- Is there a way that you could incorporate your theme into your narrative instead of coming out and stating it directly?
- Do you think you could develop your imagery in the beginning to establish the setting? I was not sure where your story was taking place.
- Could you could use another word for “sad.” I thought I heard it twice in a couple of sentences. Is there another word that might paint a better picture for the reader?
- Could you reread the line that starts…
- What was your theme? I thought it might be about finding a home, but I wasn’t sure I got the whole thing.
- Your descriptive language made me feel as though I was there. I loved your use of “…”
For whatever reason, peer review was just not effective in my classroom. This lays a heavy burden on the teacher to be the only one who can give guidance and direction in students’ writing. What if you miss something? What if the student doesn’t understand the way a teacher has phrased the feedback?
However, I have been working with Carrie Eneix on a long-term project to use creative writing (poetry and narrative) to engage students in the writing, revision and research process, and these are the exact statements I heard from her freshmen over the three days of the workshop. You can read more about our work together here.
In order to address the use of revision to improve students writing, we used a strategy called “Writer’s Workshop.” This is a technique I have modified from my work in the PAGES program. As a general summation, “Writer’s Workshop” is a peer feedback model where students share their work with the whole group via reading it aloud. Other students take notes over what they hear and then and follow a set verbal feedback procedure. (See below for explicit instructions and a handout that can be used with teachers and students new to the practice of “workshopping”). Here are the targets of the lesson:
- I can actively listen and participate in a respectful group discussion that includes sharing, reflection and instruction.
- I can give productive and insightful feedback for revision to my fellow writers.
- I can use instructive feedback to revise my writing, creating a more concise and engaging, and well-written piece.
As Eneix so aptly pointed out to students, they not only benefited from receiving feedback on their own writing, they also benefited from having many other student models; they were explicitly encouraged to also use these. In addition, they were able to practice speaking and listening skills via the procedures and norms established for the group. They earned credit for the workshop by giving productive feedback at least three and up to eight times per day of the workshop.
A couple of things to note about the use of Writer’s Workshop:
- It will take at least three days for a class of twenty or more
- The writing piece needs to be fairly short or students should choose only a part to read (for example the introduction and thesis with more informational types of writing)
- Students need to be explicitly taught what to look for in a piece beforehand through previous lessons
- Students must feel safe with one another- norms are important
- The “rephrasing” of the constructive feedback needs to be practiced. It might be helpful to give some examples and model beforehand; in addition, continue to model and help students rephrase throughout the activity
When all of these things are in place, I believe that this form of workshopping is the most effective revision method I have found as a teacher. Having used this in numerous classrooms, I have yet to see a group of students who did not seem to benefit from the strategy. If you would like to try it in your classroom, please let me know.
Below are the resources for the lesson:
- Writer’s Workshop Explanation and Question Stems
- Writers workshop worksheet 2– This is a resource students and teachers can use to take notes while the workshop is on-going.