A high school publications class provides a real life group learning activity that few other classes replicate. Students work as a team to create a newspaper, yearbook, website or broadcast, and while individual assignments are important, the class needs to come together to make sure all the work gets done, is done well and is put together as a whole. I want to see if teaching students to do peer writing conferences would help them become better writers and team members, because they would practice both writing skills and social skills by giving and receiving feedback. However, after some early difficulties with having my students give short, vague, grammar focused writing conferences I want to find out if writing conferences, especially peer writing conferences are useful and how I can improve the comments students make with each other.
Importance of writing conferences
I am interested in the dialogues that can happen when two people discuss writing. I have been experimenting with teacher-student writing conferences since reading Teaching Writing to Adolescents by Kelly Gallagher, where he discusses how students are more likely to pay attention to conferences with a teacher than comments written on a paper.
A teacher-student writing conference writing conference is a meeting between a teacher and one student to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of a student piece of writing (Walker & Elias, 1987). Walker and Elias found that writing conferences tend to receive higher ratings from students when the instructor and student can evaluate the student’s work together, rather than when the instructor takes over and discusses what he or she thinks the paper should be about.
While writing conferences are most effective when...
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...hen discussing writing with their peers.
Peer writing conferences are important because they offer students a way to receive in depth feedback on their writing, as well as practice writing skills by evaluating the writing of others. However, even strong writers do not know how to give effective writing conferences, and when students do not have practice with writing conferences and or are not given instruction on how to give them, the conferences are short, vague and can become off topic. Teachers can increase the effectiveness of peer writing conferences by using scaffolding strategies such as modeling feedback, discussing writing as a large group, and using different techniques to have structured small group discussions. With guidance and practice, the teacher should be able to step back from these discussions as the student voices take over.