Cues from My Students: A Writing and Peer Review Assignment

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Several years ago, I witnessed three of my students, who, after reading Ruta Septeys’ book, Salt to the Sea, decided they wanted to emulate her writing. These girls, all in my eighth-grade ELA intervention course, started a book club to discuss how Septeys’ used language to convey meaning. Thanks to these girls’ enthusiasm, I revisited the concept of writing center groups in the classroom. After all, teachers strive for students questioning how authors convey meaning with words and sentence structures during peer review,

My class was finishing up a unit entitled The Long Journey Home. We read A Long Walk to Water, excerpts of Nelson Mandela’s speeches, a short story called “Diamond Land,” and watched a film entitled The Lost Boys of Sudan. 

I studied Flower’s paradigm of the madman, the architect, the carpenter, and the judge and also learned to rename rough drafts to downdrafts; therefore, I chose to employ some of these methods in the draft process. I told my students to think about everything we read in class and, for the entire ninety minutes, write their thoughts down, write the connections between the stories and film, and if they found any connections with our unit and their independent novel. I told my students we were in the madman phase.

Frances Christensen, in his book, Notes Toward a New Rhetoric stated, “In composition courses, we do not really teach our captive charges to write better – we merely expect them to.” (Christensen &; Christensen, 1967, p. 129) During the school year, teachers have little time to teach a type of writing before they take a high stakes test on the writing. There is no time to develop fluency or sentence writing skills. 

Collins, Lee, Fox, and Madigan from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2017 completed a writing-intensive reading comprehension study. They observed that using interactive writing assignments with critical thinking questions about the reading as opposed to fact-finding questions would increase reading comprehension. 

I was praying my writing assignment, via the madman stage, asking students to ask questions and critically think back to our discussions and notes, would help their writing and comprehension. When the students completed their 90-minute madman downdraft, I collected the papers, read them, and wrote what I felt their thesis was and gave them a more targeted paper to write by connecting their thesis to a specific issue and audience.

 

A couple of days later, I set the students into groups of three for peer review. I gave them a peer review sheet I wanted them to answer as best they could, and I wanted them to CRISP their peer’s writing. I kept in mind that these were still grade eight students in a struggling reading course and needed guidance. Each group used a set of various colored highlighters for the crisping activity.

My three girls took this writing assignment and peer review to new heights as they poured over their sentences in their papers and compared them to Ruta Septeys’ sentence structure. Their final drafts indicated a new advanced level of writing they credited with reading and discussing Septeys’ book.

In the current trend of student-centered learning, the idea of students self-teaching may be a plus; however, “Despite the frequent use of self-teaching, it fails to capitalize on the potential benefits of the social environment on learning. Also, not using models may limit the level of skill acquisition.” (Schunk &; Zimmerman, 2006, p. 14). In Schunk and Zimmerman’s 2007 study on self-efficiency and self-regulation, they scrutinized various past studies. They completed studies determining teacher-directed lessons via modeling help to teach student efficacy and self-regulation strategies. One such review from 2002, summarized research on college writing editing skills. “Students were assigned to one of six conditions. Mastery modeling students watched a professor demonstrate the revision strategy flawlessly; the coping-model students observed a model who initially made and corrected errors; and the no-model students had no exposure to a teacher or writing example. Results showed studying the coping model led to greater increases in writing self-efficacy.” (Schunk &; Zimmerman, 2006, p. 20) The final results also showed students who did not have any model made no gains in their writing abilities or self-regulation. 

Another instructional context would be student-led peer revision groups. Circling back to my eighth-grade students, even though their model (and teacher in a way) was a flawless, published book, they learned from me using examples of rough drafts, revision notes, and final draft writing since the beginning of the year.

My students had the best of both worlds, modeling writing in all its frustrations and revisions with me, falling in love with a book and wanting to use it as a model for writing, and trust in one another during peer review.

Bibliography

Christensen, F., & Christensen, B. (1967). Notes Toward a New Rhetoric: 9 Essays forTeachers (3rd ed.). Bangor, ME: Booklocker.com.

Collins, J. L., Lee, J., Fox, J. D., & Madigan, T. P. (2017). Bringing Together Reading and Writing: An Experimental Study of Writing Intensive Reading Comprehension in Low-Performing Urban Elementary Schools. Reading Research Quarterly, 52(3), 311-332. doi:10.1002/rrq.175

Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2006). Influencing Childrens Self-Efficacy and Self-Regulation of Reading and Writing Through Modeling. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 23(1), 7-25. doi:10.1080/10573560600837578