Revisiting Critical Friends

This year I have a group of students who, most of the time, try to work together.  So far they don’t seem to get on each others nerves very often. Mykids range from highly independent, self-motivated students to those with pervasive developmental challenges.  Some days we exhaust each other.

I made a decision to revisit narrative writing again this month to see if we could improve on our first attempt in this writing genre.  One of those improvements is that I have assigned each student a “critical friend”, a writing partner.  This afternoon we used the 10 steps toward independence (thanks Gail and Joan!) modeling what a conference with a critical friend should look and sound like – and how it should not.  I guess we’ve done this routine enough times with other parts of the Daily Five that it was no big deal to follow a good model with a poor model with a good model.

And then I asked the newly formed writing partnerships to go off and talk about their ideas for this new narrative writing project and offer encouragement and suggestions.

I  often like to step away from the children  and become an observer. Oftentimes I am amazed at how things roll and today was no exception. I could hear each author explain the five narrative ideas they had thought of, why the idea was important to him or her, and then listen as the partner either encouraged or gently offered a suggestion or clarification of the idea.  The partners were so sincere in their responsibilities to their writing partners; how powerful it must have felt to get some feedback from a peer, not only from the teacher!

When I think about making sure my student writers have peers to support them, I sometimes find myself hesitating – wondering if the students have the skills (social) and judgement to offer constructive criticism to a peer. I wonder if I am asking too much of them.  But today, I observed I have very much underestimated my students. They are most definitely up to the task of working with a writing partner, a critical friend.

I won’t under-estimate them again. Critical friends are here to stay.

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