When writers trust that they can consistently receive high quality feedback from their peers, everything changes.
Rather than relying on the teacher, kids begin turning to one another for support. They begin knowing and naming their expertise and soon, they grow hungry for cool feedback. Rather than hearing it as criticism, they take it for what it is: a gift. Quality feedback is timely, criteria specific, and of service to the writer.
Criticism isn’t the same as feedback, and neither are compliments.
Improving my own ability to provide decent feedback to writers will be the work of my career, and it’s my good fortune to have mentors to learn from at the WNY Young Writer’s Studio. Those in our adult writing group are particularly skilled here, as are a number of our high school writers. I pay careful attention to their approaches. They inspire me.
That said, if I’ve been teaching writing for over twenty years and still find it challenging to provide high quality feedback, it’s no wonder why so many young writers struggle with it.
Experience has taught me that peer review isn’t something I can simply make class time for and expect writers to do well. In fact, coaching quality peer review requires thoughtful implementation, assessment, and sustained support over time. Even when it seems like we’ve arrived, I find that asking writers to talk with me about their peer review experiences, what they find satisfying, and what makes it work is critical.
Here are five moves that matter most when it comes to peer review:
1. Coach writers to ask for criteria specific feedback. Help them reflect on their thinking and their work and frame specific questions. Reviewers should read with a lens that is provided by the writer.
2. Help writers define what quality looks like, given their lens. Sometimes, we rely on the 6+1 Traits rubrics at Studio, but more and more often, writers are using mentor texts and their own research to define what they are trying to achieve. This frames their questions and helps reviewers establish a lens that enables criteria-specific feedback.
3. Remind writers to follow the protocol carefully. This will ensure that they pause after reading a writer’s work in order to frame their thinking carefully, using the criteria that have been established.
4. Following one of our protocols will also ensure that the feedback provided is warm and cool, not critical or complimentary. I find that I need to model the difference as much as possible, particularly in the beginning.
5. Finally, ask kids to tell you how meaningful their peer review experiences were and why. I’ve been asking for anonymous tickets out the door from time to time for about a year now. I wish I had started this sooner. I’ve learned so much by asking writers to offer their honest perspectives about things, and everyone seems to be investing themselves in the process even more now that they know I’m interested enough in making it work to ask them how it went.
Try These Tools:
Interested in replicating our process? Mine is adapted from one that I learned at Communities for Learning: Leading Lasting Change. I’ve created an entire binder of resources, downloads, protocols, and tools to support this work right here. You’ll find approaches for every grade level inside. What could I add? How do you help writers provide great feedback to one another? Reach out to me on Twitter to talk more. My handle is @angelastockman.