Editing & Revising with Peers

IMG_0200As a writer and, as a teacher, I value collaboration with peers. I know that my writing is made more clear, more interesting, and more precise when I rely on a trusted “critical friend” to offer constructive feedback. And so, when the Commonwealth’s writing standards included peer revising as well as adult conferring, the inclusion of critical friends in the Writing Process made sense. Beginning in Grade 2, Writing Standard 5 includes this important progression of peer revision and peer editing. [Refer to the Writing Standards (“Code W”) by grade level beginning on page 26 of the 2011 Frameworks.]

From my experience, elementary students must be taught explicitly how to do this. They need good models of what peer conferring looks like. As a proponent of the Daily Five, I found the 10 Steps to Independence model to be an ideal teaching method for introducing peer editing and revising to my students.

Students at the elementary level need some structure for learning how to be a helpful peer editor or revisor; and to this end, I was fortunate to get an offer for some coaching from our former Literacy Coach, Patricia Sweeney.  Pat provided a structure for the students: 2 compliments and a suggestion. Here were the guidelines:

  • The author reads the piece from beginning to end without interruption
  • The revisor/editor offers 2 compliments. Personal references (“I like...”) were excluded; more constructive/objective language included (“When you wrote…, your writing was… (very clear, powerful, descriptive, etc.”).
  • No “buts” – one of my 3rd and 4th graders favorites, because what 9-year old can resist telling another to get their “but” out of writing. (When you wrote …., your description was very clear, BUT…)
  • The revisor/editor can offer 1 suggestion (so not to overwhelm the author all at once), jotting on a stick-on note. (You might want to …. or Your writing might be more powerful if …). The author can agree or disagree with the suggestion, but listens and takes it “under advisement”.

This structure provided the students with two things: a language framework for offering constructive feedback and an opportunity to apply grade-level writing skills as the “student” become the “teacher”.

These peer-led conferences always took place prior to conferring with an adult and prior to producing a final version of the writing.  Peers did not assess another student’s writing, but offered constructive criticism for the purpose of helping the author improve upon the writing.

Exactly what my adult peer editor and revisor does for me.



When Teacher Has an Aha Moment

I am an avid reader of the Choice Literacy website. I love reading what the leaders in literacy have to say and particularly value those who not only share their pedagogy and thinking, but also work in classrooms with real students.  Franki Sibberson is one of those contributors on Choice Literacy; her writings always make me consider changes that can be made to the way I think about and deliver lessons to my students.

This is Franki’s post from this morning.  When I read it, it became clear to me that while the pull-outs for Tier 3 interventions give my struggling readers support the way instruction at K-2 does, my on- and above-grade readers need greater independence. And – surprise, surprise – every student needs the opportunity to read independently.  That’s something I’ve said all along: Readers can’t grow to be better readers if they never get the opportunity to try out or practice reading on their own. Oddly, I feel validated now – and more determined to make this happen in my classroom.

As an experienced teacher, what Franki shares about learning – and letting go – with intermediate readers really resounded with me.  We struggle at our school with  providing just-right support to the readers who should be able to soar as readers with greater sophistication and skill alongside those who need greater support.  Reading Franki’s article in Choice Literacy this morning made me see things in a new light: in my new 3rd- and soon-to-be 4th-grade classroom, I have two very different groups of readers. The level instruction must be different and will look different.

This appears to fit with what our District reading guidelines.  As a district, we are moving toward book clubs and conferring in Grades 3 and 4. It is a model that I’ve dabbled in with my third graders – and now it will become more frequent. Our struggling readers receive Tier 3 supports through a pull-out program for 30 minutes a day – that will be their “guided reading”.  Thinking of these two models side-by-side helps me to understand how to differentiate the literacy block for all readers.

Teacher has had an aha moment.

You convinced me!

We all need a good laugh – or even just a smile – every so often. Just to remind us of the joy that can be teaching.

In the midst of this silly season – this season when there is some hefty assessment going on – I had one of those moments as I corrected a sizable (read daunting) stack of persuasive reviews. Third grade writers are very earnest in their recommendations – even my less nuanced writers try their darnedest to convince me with their very best 9-year-old logic.

Here is the writing that made me smile:

Slerp! Crunch! Ahh! China Buffet the place I love, I’ll show you, actually show you all the amazing features with a con about… China Buffet of course. I previously mentioned that earlier. The food: China Buffet has some good food like the refreshing cold and hot, (I meant for it to be hot and cold) beverages which will eternally rock your socks off. You will be doing your stomach a favor!

And then there’s seafood, not much of it, but worth it. There’s about a dozen creamy rich flavored ice creamy smooth textured ice cream flavors. There is a fish tank with angelfish, clownfish, and tiger fish. It’s near Sleepy’s and Chuck E. Cheese (and Target).

China Buffet has great service. You use tongs to “get” food instead of ordering on a menu and waiting for cooked food. It’s already done!

And now for a con, one measly con. Your reaction may be “What! You can’t find the bathroom!” It’s silly yes, it’s there though. I’ve been there numerous times. (P.S. there’s fruit cocktails, pork fried rice, sushi, Jell-o, fortune cookies, chicken, shrimp, clams, etc.).

So that’s why you should go check out China Buffet. I rate it 5 stars.

Come to think of it, I would like to do my stomach a favor! Hope there’s a table available!

Going Rogue

When you need to just shut the classroom door and do what you know is right even when it seems to fly in the face of dictates or policy – through research, through professional experience – we call that “going rogue”.

Recently, I heard someone higher on the food chain that I, say that “we don’t read for fun or enjoyment” any more. Seriously.  After I picked my chin up off the table, I began to think about this.  And the person was totally correct; we don’t read for fun. We read for purpose and it is frequently not that much fun. For anyone.

Before someone jumps on me for not be instructional, I do use literature to demonstrate, model, and instruct. Focused literacy lessons using carefully selected genres and books are necessary to expose students to lots of things they need to become more advanced and literate readers. Totally on board with the concept.  But shouldn’t there be some room for fun? Shouldn’t kids have some time when teacher reads aloud for pure enjoyment? A time when minds are engulfed in imagination? If we are raising a generation of readers, shouldn’t THAT be part of the curriculum, too?

This past week, I have gone off the grid not once, but twice. I have gone rogue.  Oh the horror – I read two texts just for fun. And guess what? My students APPLAUDED when I completed the book! They enjoyed it.

I hope any of my administrators who read this will understand, it is not because I wish to be contrary or defiant.  I do this because I believe that if we don’t include modeling WHY we read for recreation, we’ve missed the boat on a major purpose for reading. Along with being college and career ready, we need to foster habits for inquiring minds that will take these kids into their adulthood.  We need to read because it is fun.

So, expect me to include reading simply for enjoyment more frequently.  I am going rogue.

It May Just Be a Good Time to Cry “Uncle”

I’ve heard all manner of reasons for why this year is exceptionally difficult.  I’m a believer in the Daily Five. It makes sense, it’s based on research – brain research AND literacy research. I saw my students grow.

But I feel that it is time to give it up.

The message I’ve been getting is that in order to follow the curriculum guides, particular lessons need to be implemented.  I tried to creatively roll these mandatory lessons into the CAFE, but sadly, there just isn’t time to do the CAFE justice.  Trying to do both the Daily Five/CAFE and the required curriculum is driving me insane.

So even though I believe the Daily Five/CAFE is a powerful tool toward helping my students become independent and become better readers than I ever thought possible, I am giving it up. Reading groups, here we go.

Sometimes it is better to admit defeat. But better for whom? Of that I’m not sure.


Raising Rigor in Readers’ Notebooks

I used to look with envy at those spiffy Readers’ Notebooks available through a nationally known publisher.  In fact I envied them so much, I figured out how to customize a similar notebook for my students to use.

And while they seemed to work pretty well, I’ve come to realize that maybe the beautifully GBC-bound notebooks and forms I’d created were not all that.

Asking my students to write a weekly response in the form of a letter to which I would write back produced writing about reading. But what I mostly got was a retelling (plot) or even worse, an “I like this book….” without a “because”.

I’m reading Aimee Buckner’s Notebook Connections and discovering something about what has passed for a reader’s response in my classroom. Because my students were so wrapped up in writing a letter to the teacher – and maybe even in getting it done over revealing something they were thinking – the thoughts about reading and literacy were pretty much on the surface.

I want my students to learn to do more than that! Upping the rigor of a response means that I will need to teach students to first notice their thinking and then record it.  And then dive deeper into what the author chooses to do when writing; it’s all interconnected.

So I’m no longer envying teachers who can purchase those fancy Readers’ Notebooks for kids. I want to raise the rigor on what students write in reading responses. I want them to think in depth about a text and wonder. I want them to notice an author’s craft and how it impacts a reader.

What I am thinking about for next year is a much more simple tool for holding ideas than the fill-in the form I’ve grown comfortable with over the last 2 years.  Students need a space to record a year’s growth in becoming literate, a place to keep track of genres and kinds of books (given the opportunity, some of my kids would only read Arthur books!), and a place to record and notice not only their own thoughts as they read but how an author crafts writing.

It’s a tall order with many opportunities for missteps on my part. By breaking down the Readers’ Notebook to what is essential, I hope for depth in thinking. A spiral notebook and some self-sticking tabs should do the trick.


A (Non)-Writer Discovers Notebooks

A while ago, our Literacy Coach began talking to us about revisiting notebooks as a means to developing writers and authors.  I’m possibly the last person in education to discover Aimee Buckner and Notebook Know-How, but I am so glad I have made that connection.

Not being a writer myself or at least not a disciplined one, I found notebooks and their use just one more thing to do with kids. Our school-wide writing calendars, focused on responses and one new genre of writing every two months was quite time-consuming. I couldn’t imagine when we would fit in using notebooks.

And then I read this

— we shouldn’t write for significance, but rather that we should write as a habit. Sometimes we’ll write something significant and sometimes we won’t. It’s the act of writing — the practice of generating text and building fluency–that leads writers to significance.

Wow! Did those words speak to me! What I had been doing “wrong” all this time, both as a non-writer and a teacher of writing, was expecting each morsel to be significant. The notebook is a place to practice, to try out, to experiment. Not only in writing, but in any endeavor, a learner needs a safe place to practice without worry as to the significance of the outcome.

This is a discovery that I can relate to. As an amateur photographer, I’ve been reticent to take my camera with me because I would not have anything worthwhile to show for it.

My students are starting to use notebooks now. And while they are not yet a habit, we are learning together to find a safe place to experiment with some of the strategies that professional writers and authors use.

We are learning to be learners through our experimentation.