Students will only listen to and value what their teachers say to a point. When we try to provide constructive feedback to our students, they generally think we are trying to change their work. Or even worse, they think that we hate what they’ve produced. In the end, they usually don’t incorporate the suggestions we provide. So, why bother? Why not find another way to help our students grow as writers?
To help prepare our sixth graders for the rigors of seventh grade, my co-teacher and I decided that we would utilize an assignment the English teacher uses with the seventh graders. As our students have read numerous books this year under the workshop model, we figured it was time to bring things full circle. Plus, we also want to encourage our students to grow as critical thinkers. So, we had them create a Book Review regarding a book they read this year. The boys could choose any book they wanted. We had them craft the review according to the expectations the seventh grade English teacher employs in his classroom. We provided our students with the same handout they will see next year. We explained, “We want to prepare you for next year.” To help our students along in the revision process this week, we invited one of the seventh grade English classes into our classroom. We had the seventh graders pair up with a sixth grader and edit and offer feedback to him regarding the Book Review he had created.
It was an awesome experience. The seventh graders were like young teachers guiding our sixth graders to academic excellence. The seventh graders offered suggestions, made edits in their work, and helped them find textual support. At the close of the class, we debriefed the process with both groups. The sixth graders said, “My partner helped me fix my grammar mistakes, he stayed by me during the revision process and answered my questions as I had forgotten what he said earlier, and he showed me where to use examples from the book.” The seventh graders said, “I was able to fix mistakes that I used to make in my own writing and I liked talking to someone other than a seventh grader in my class.” Both groups of students benefited greatly from this process. The seventh graders rose to the occasion and helped the sixth graders develop their writing while the sixth graders were receptive to feedback and allowed their writing to grow. It was amazing to see the students so enthralled in the entire process for 35 minutes.
This isn’t the only way to help students revise their writing, but to date this year, it seems to be one of the best ways that we have found. Students are much more receptive and open to feedback when it is provided by their peers. They trust that what the seventh graders told them was useful because they have gone through this process before and know what the seventh grade teacher expects. The results will be evident next week when we conference with the students regarding their final Book Review. We’re hopeful that this process will help them improve upon their work more so than just hearing suggestions from the teachers.