Writing Activity: Peer-editing

For my writing activity I worked with 12th grade students at Upper Dublin High School. The focus of my lesson was peer-editing. Students in this particular class were at the point of development in an artifact essay where they had finished their first draft. My activity focused on spending most of the time doing independent editing, but also used scaffolding as a way enabling the students to look for particular elements of craft in the writing of their peers.  

“The relationship [of a editor] is a special one, supportive, helpful, nonthreatening, probing, and sometimes challenging…we prefer to teach them how to be editors for each other in Writers’ Groups.” Kirby & Crovitz

As a warm-up, I had the students start drawing a picture on a piece of paper. After one minute they would pass the drawing to their left, and continue passing it until it made its way around the table and back to the original artist. Students responded to this by relating the experience to peer-editing. This meta-cognitive experience made them think of peer-editing as a way for their creations to change, be made better, be made different, all through the involvement of their peers.

I asked the students what their initial thoughts were concerning good writing. The next few minutes were spent in a lecture format on the elements of good writing found in Kirby & Crovitz (2013) and a handout containing seven tips for writing an effective artifact essay. After getting a baseline for the elements that we wanted, as a class, to look for in the artifact essays, I handed out an excerpt of my own writing that we read and edited. I showed them my own criticism of the excerpt, and they shared what they had discovered about the piece. We looked at the common elements in the criticism and discussed what appropriate and useful feedback actually looks like. The following 20 minutes of class was spent reading and editing each other’s artifact essays. They used the elements of writing discussed previously in the class as a tool for knowing what to look for.

This lesson plan has all of the elements of a gradual release model, so I thought that it was going to very beneficial to the students by giving them some practical tools that they needed to give meaningful feedback. I really wanted to guide them just far enough along where they would be able to offer concrete opinions and advice that would make their essays significantly better. I modeled the peer-editing process, then walked through it with them. I believed it would make them better editors.

The lesson went well, but it wasn’t as effective as I hoped it would be. The warm-up was successful in drawing in their attention. I thought that it helped them to see peer-editing in a new way. When I spent the few minutes talking to them about elements of good writing it had the immediate effect of sucking the energy out of the room. Their minds seemed to shut off at that point, or at least slow down, and it was hard to move them back towards a more collaborative environment.

I thought that my overall plan was thoroughly thought through and had strong elements of scaffolding. The overall structure allowed students to move from teacher-led work to independent work. The lesson struggled with the transitions. It was missing was more examples of positive feedback, examples that go beyond simply showing the elements of good writing. I think that I should have reduced the lecture time and spent more time working together with the students on models of what substantive feedback is and is not. 

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6 thoughts on “Writing Activity: Peer-editing

  1. I really like the idea of the drawing in the beginning. I don’t think I have seen that done or even heard of anyone doing that. Did you find that idea on any website? I liked that it gave them a different perspective because I think that students need to see all of the sides when it comes to writing. My biggest fear is losing the students when I do my lesson. I don’t want them to get that glazed over look in their eyes when I’m talking. From what you wrote, I think what you did was great even though you felt you lost them, but I guess that’s going to happen with some kids. I hope not though…

  2. I think your hook is great, especially because it shows students how editing is a dynamic process. I think most students think editing is a once and done activity. In reality, writing that has been edited multiple times rarely looks like it did when the author started it. I also think it’s great that you shared some of your own writing with the class. I actually shared my own writing with a class for the first time last week, and I think it’s important to do because it’s modeling. (Also, students sometimes seem oddly fascinated with the idea that teachers have lives/thoughts that don’t relate directly to school haha.) I appreciate your point about parts of the explanation sucking the energy out of the room. Any time I’ve done peer editing in the classroom, I find that many students are unable/unwilling to spend the time doing it. I’ve been struggling with ways to make peer-editing more appealing.

  3. I think the class went better then you thought it did. It’s tough to parachute in (they are familiar with you but you it isn’t “your” class) and expect things will go seamlessly. There is an ebb of flow of a class that isn’t always so easy to jump in on. With this caveat the design and execution were pretty good. I wouldn’t stop you from tinkering with it but until you have at it in a more natural setting, I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself.

  4. It’s interesting that your lesson was on peer editing; I led a peer editing session in Cheltenham two weeks ago, and I’ve also been struggling with how to make it work well. I honestly think that part of it is just giving students practice. We wouldn’t expect them to get better at writing unless they write a lot; why should editing, which is at least as nuanced and complex, be any different?
    Maybe next time, you could start by creating “models of what substantive feedback is and is not.” What kinds of comments do students like to get? What kinds of comments do they feel are really helpful? Granted, if students don’t have much experience giving feedback and revising, this might be hard, but you could always come up with a bunch of possible examples, and talk about the differences between them. You could even put different examples around the room and have students comment on them, Chalk-Talk style.

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