I firmly believe that all teachers should have education gurus in their content area. Young teachers especially should be encouraged to read professional literature and find those reliable resources to provide ideas and promote reflective practice. I think a lot of teachers don't do much professional reading beyond college or renewal classes. I'm not sure if it's because they don't know the variety and quality of resources out there, or if they're just apathetic. I assume it's a combination of both. A lot has been thrown around lately about mentorship and how to keep young teachers in the profession. While I think a face to face mentor is important, it's also important to connect new teachers with content area professional development books. I envision a kind of "Welcome to Teaching" swag bag of goodies and books. One author that I'd put in every English teacher's swag bag is Kelly Gallagher.
I first encountered Kelly Gallagher's book Teaching Adolescent Writers in the Iowa Writing Project library. Five years into teaching (and screwing up a lot of young writers during those five years) and BOOM, here's the guy and the guide that should have been with me from the start. I think I was overwhelmed at first. I wanted to steal everything and put it to work right away, but I wasn't ready yet. I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Gallagher present at the Iowa Council of Teachers of English Fall Conference in 2012. He was everything I'd hoped for based on what I knew from his books.
Last week we had Iowa Assessments. In order to distract myself during the endless days of administering tests, I came back to Teaching Adolescent Writers. This time, I had labels and a highlighter and a plan for attack.
All of my students are busy working on their Trimester 2 Finals. This is supposed to be the best possible writing they are capable of at this point in time. They have freedom to choose genre and topic, as long as they show variety from past writings. They'd already been through rough drafts, one round of peer response (PQP: Praise, Question, Polish format), and writing conferences with me. I wanted a different type of peer response groups for this round.
I think one of the main things that discourages some teachers from using peer response is the management factor. How much guidance do students need in order to create successful response? Too much freedom with middle school students can lead to a management nightmare, and too much regimented structure can turn group work into hoop-jumping instead of authentic collaborative learning. It's a balance thing. I love turning to writers like Kelly Gallagher in a situation like this. I don't need to reinvent the peer response wheel; I want something that works and that I can put to use right away.
I chose Gallagher's Read-Around-Groups format (Teaching Adolescent Writers p86-87). I printed copies of all student papers and blacked out their names. To further ensure anonymity, I switched class periods' papers so no students would encounter papers from their class period during the activity. I also extended reading time on each paper to two minutes (Gallagher suggests one). I kept students in groups of three to four so they would only have three to four papers to read. I also required them to comment on drafts. I try not to have students comment on editing issues. Peer response is revision, not editing, and I reminded them to react and comment as readers, not editors. Asking questions and drawing attention to confusion are the main ways I encourage students to respond.
This was a great activity that worked successfully in my classroom. The most difficult part was printing paper copies since I wanted them to have the physical copies in front of them. Students were able to see their peers' work and comment with the safety of anonymity. They also had to evaluate the qualities of "good" writing, and defend their choices in groups. The time limit kept them on schedule and didn't allow for much goof off time. After each group chose their "star" paper, I read the first paragraph, stanza, or line from each paper to the class. We came back as a large group to highlight the qualities of good writing. I was also able to add my opinions and reactions to the chosen papers. It created a safe space for students to talk about and interact with writing, while also seeing how they compared to their peers.
This is a peer response activity that I will add to my "go-to" list. I continue to be impressed with Gallagher's work and his easy, instantly usable activities that engage student writers. His books should be in any first-year English teacher survival kit.
P.S. The technology fairy visited my room last night...desktop iMacs! This will greatly help students who have problems with their iPads.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.