Monday, October 14, 2013

In the Classroom: Responding to Writing

Last week, in writing workshop, we started a short cycle on response groups in writing.  This is the beginning of our work with responding in peer groups so a few lessons are helping us get started.

I began the lessons by sharing my own experiences as a writer.  I shared this photo with my students. It was taken at the Choice Literacy Writing Retreat this summer. It is a photo of the group of us who got together to write and share and respond. I talked to them about the experience and about how twice a day we would share our writing and get feedback on it to help us make our writing better. I explained that sometimes I was the writer and sometimes I was the responder and I shared a few specific examples of pieces I worked on while I was there and the ways in which the other helped me to make my writing better.

Then we revisited a video we watched earlier in the year as part of a minilesson cycle on community.  The video shows the power of peer response and we talked about how the responses from Austin's classmates were what helped him create a better drawing. The same was true for writing.  Response matters.

We started a chart early in the week that we will build together over the course of the minilessons.  Then we'll clean it up a bit to synthesize our learning about response groups.

The first experience with response was whole group and it was a piece of writing that I shared with the students. I wrote a piece that I was hoping to put on Kidblogs about my younger brother. Sibling stories are popular in the classroom right now, and I wanted my kids to see that I got ideas from their writing.  I also wanted to practice together. So I told my students that as a writer, I had to prepare for the response group.  I had chosen a piece of writing that I wanted help with, made copies for everyone, and thought of a few specific things I wanted help with.  I read the piece aloud.  Their job was to read the piece and write thoughts that came to them as they read--things that might help make my writing better. They each marked a piece up.

The next day I fishbowled with 3 students about my writing.  I asked them specifics ( a few questions about word choice and some advice on the lead.).  They shared confidently and kindly and I got some great advice. We processed the things that made the response group positive.

Then kids went off and chose a piece of writing from their writers' notebooks that they wanted feedback on.  They were very excited about doing this once we got to this point in the cycle. Getting feedback on their writing was something they were excited about!  They marked the piece, jotted down specific feedback they were looking for and we copied those pieces so that everyone in the response group would have his/her own copy.

Then we started to get ready. Students were put in groups of 4 with one writer and 3 responders each day.  The WRITER of the day met with me about things they were hoping to learn from the responders while responders read and marked up the writers' texts.

Then response groups met, focusing on one writer each day.

Writers took notes on the things they needed to remember when they went back to revise.

By the end of the cycle, we will have a chart that reminds us how we get ready for a response group (writers and responders) and the kinds of things we might say/hear in a response group (as a writer or responder).

As we continue to build, our feedback will get more detailed and specific but my goal with this first cycle was for kids to see the power of response groups--for both the writer and the responder. 


  1. You did a great job of building this writing activity, and growing your community of writers. It makes me miss the classroom, actually. Middle school was my "gig," and now that I work with the post secondary population I occasionally miss the world of wonder that can happen with the younger ones. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Franki,
    Thanks for sharing this process with us. I appreciate seeing what's happening in your classroom! A question: At what point in the process did students respond? During the rough draft stage? After completion of a first go, but before revision? Or were they at all different stages? I can see advantages and disadvantages to all of those!

    I've always struggled with getting good student conversation about writing. I know it's something I'm not doing well in order to set it up so it works. Your post helps me think through this better. Thank you.

    1. We are doing this the first time with a draft but we aren't going to publish-just learn to revise a bit. Then we'll do it more in the midst of the process with a bigger piece of writing. Not sure how it will go but I wanted to get it started so it was in place to build upon for bigger writing projects.

  3. I love how this supports writers! I have kids in second grade after having them in first. We have talked a lot about responding to reading. It will fit for us to respond to writing next. You have given such a great scaffolding model to make this work. Thanks!


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