Being a teacher has its many perks and rewards:
- Observing students really “get” stuff and have A-Ha moments in the classroom.
- Being able to decorate your classroom anyway you want with no one telling you, “Those drapes clash with that carpet.”
- Helping students grow and develop.
- Challenging students to change their perspective on life.
- Halloween. Need I say more?
- Celebrating a furry brown creature who lives in the ground with songs, poems, and fun.
- Meeting new students on the first day of school.
- Running into past students in strange places and taking a stroll down memory lane.
I bet that some of you thought snow days and summer vacation were going to be at the top of my list. While we, as teachers, do love our time off, we’d much rather be in the classroom with our students molding minds and helping create the next generation of leaders, thinkers, and doers.
Another thing teachers really love about their lifestyle choice is seeing that their students are actually learning. Yes, it’s great to see the moment when they understand something like a lightbulb going off in their brain, but seeing students apply that new knowledge they learn is even cooler.
Over the years, I’ve wrestled with how to help students see the power of the peer editing process. How do I help students understand the value in providing their peers with meaningful feedback that will help them effectively revise their written work? How can I best teach students to be effective peer editors? Each year I feel as though teaching students to be great peer editors is like what early American settlers went through when they journeyed west in search of land, an arduous and long journey. It takes many students the entire year to really be able to master the skill of providing their peers with useful feedback. I get it. Having a careful eye and providing constructive feedback to others is not an easy thing to do. It’s hard to effectively help others to make their writing better. I sometimes struggle with this skill myself, and I’m an adult. I understand that this journey to becoming an effective peer editor can be bumpy and filled with unexpected twists and turns, which is why I don’t expect my students to be able to meaningfully help others revise their written work until later in the academic year.
Now, while I’ve heard that miracles do happen, I have yet to see any in my short life. Wait a minute, I take that back: My teenaged son once woke up in a pleasant mood. That was definitely a miracle. Inside my classroom, I was fortunate enough today to see another miracle: My students effectively peer editing each other’s written work.
Today’s class began much like any other. The boys wrote down the homework and completed a Brain Puzzle activity altogether as a class. Nothing special or miraculous happened. The boys did what was expected of them. Then, I introduced the peer editing activity that the students would be completing in class. I reviewed the difference between editing and revising and made a list on the board of the various writing features they should be looking to comment on regarding their partner’s Learning Goals Plan. I went over the steps of the process and made sure they understood what was expected of them. As I was definitely employing a fixed mindset going into today’s class, I was certain that they would have time to peer edit with at least three different students since they usually only provide their partner with superficial feedback on how they can improve their work. Then came the miracle.
The students got right to work. No, that wasn’t the miracle. While I have had previous classes struggle with this skill, this year’s group is great at getting right to work. The miracle came when they started to work. The students were asking each other questions like, “How will you use a growth mindset? What do you mean here? Could you explain more here?” I was amazed. They were really trying to provide their partner with constructive feedback. They were focusing on the big features of their written work and not the little, nit picky stuff like spelling or grammar. They were trying to help their partner become a better, more effective writer. They posed great questions and provided each other with effective and meaningful feedback. It was awesome. They were completing the peer editing process in a real and genuine manner. They weren’t just going through the motions like classes in the past have done, oh no. They were taking the time to really dissect their partner’s work so that he could put it back together in a more effective way. I was amazed. They spent so long working with one partner, that they only had time to provide feedback to one student prior to the end of class. Wow!
How were they able to accomplish this task so early in the year? No other group has demonstrated mastery of this skill so soon in the school year. What allowed or helped my students to be successful during today’s activity? Was it because we’ve been focusing on helping our students utilize a growth mindset while working? Was that it? Or was it that I explained what they needed to do in a way that made sense to them? Perhaps it was because I reminded them that I will be grading them on their ability to provide their partner with effective feedback. Maybe the sunny weather motivated them to buckle down and really work in class today. Who knows what it was, as there were so many variables at play. I don’t feel as though I taught the skill of peer editing any differently this year than I did in past years, and so I’m not sure what it was that helped them all showcase their ability to peer edit their partner’s work in a meaningful way. I do know that something special happened in the classroom today. If my students apply the feedback with which they were provided today, they will all certainly be able to exceed the two graded objectives for this task. I can’t wait to read the final draft of their Learning Goals Plan on Friday as they are sure to be “legen- wait for it- dary.”