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From Start to Finish

Module Six

Peer Review and Audience


Once we have pulled our ideas into some semblance of order, we begin to share what we are building with a group of peers who have been taught how to offer supportive and constructive audience reactions. This stage is useful only if the peers avoid strong handed advice and criticism.

Lucy McCormick Calkins, author of The Art of Teaching Writing and one of the leading developers of writing as process for younger children, suggests that a "writing workshop" offers five main components:

  • Mini-Lessons - The teacher spends 5-10 minutes showing the class or a group of students a strategy or technique which seems timely and well matched to the work being done within the group.
  • Work Time (Writing and Conferring) - Students require solid chunks of time (like the one you just finished) to turn over and develop their words and their thinking. During this work time, the teacher moves about providing support and structuring of various kinds.

  • Peer Conferring and/or Response Groups - Calkins suggests that these meetings be formed around "requests for help" from each young writer. The group may include 4-5 writers. Perhaps a student is having trouble with a snatch of dialogue or a description of morning fog. They read enough from their work to solicit ideas and suggestions. They have a good deal of control. Everyone knows how to remain supportive and positive rather than critical. Some teachers are now experimenting with online conferencing and e-mail as a way to provide such conferring.
  • Share Sessions - These may be full class size, with everyone gathered around in a circle and one young writer sitting in the "author's chair." The teacher provides good modeling for supportive comments. Sometimes there are readings. Other times the writer speaks of the writing process, identifying issues and challenges. The group joins in.
  • Publication Celebrations - The presentation of finished work. The audience may include visitors, family and a broader range of people than the class itself. Some teachers are now experimenting with Web publishing as a way to provide such celebrations.

Lucy's book, The Art of Teaching Writing (1994, Heinemann Publishing, Portsmouth, NH, ISBN: 0-435-08809) is a wonderful, rich source of very practical strategies to support teachers who wish to create classrooms where writing as process is prized.

Join in a group of 4 and share a challenge you are facing with your writing about Country Music. Tell the group how they might help you. What do you want from them? Spend 15-20 minutes swapping ideas.

Strategy question: What advantages can you see to creating a supportive group conferring culture? What problems might you face when trying to make this happen in your classroom?

Please do not move ahead to the next activity until asked to do so by your workshop leader.

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 These professional development modules were created by Jamie McKenzie. © 2000, J.McKenzie, all rights reserved. The modules may only be duplicated and served on school networks with permission of the author. For further information contact