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So I was looking over my students' Human Body Research Papers in preparation for report cards, and I noticed that some students have been forgetting some of the writing requirements that we had for this assignment. We've been writing these research papers for almost two months now (as we learn about each system of the human body), so it's not a huge surprise that they would start forgetting all the small details.
What I decided to do, though, was to partner my students together and have them peer revise each others' essays. Of course, when I was a kid, that didn't go very well and that thought immediately crossed my mind. Some kids just used that time to chat, while others read each others' stories, but said they were great as they were even though there were tons of mistakes. I wanted to make sure this was different. I drew on some of the energy from our "Quality Boosters" lesson to try to make sure that my students would take it seriously, while also being confident and helpful.
Here's how I did it:
Here's what that all looked like using sticks (the names have been randomized):
After I partnered everyone up, I gave some directions about what I wanted them each to do while revising their partner's writing, and how I wanted them to do it (read each others' writing out loud, etc.). I set a timer for 20 minutes and said we would switch to the other partner's writing when the timer went off. I then walked around and checked that students were following directions properly (one group wasn't, so that was important).
I observed each partnership reading and giving suggestions, making corrections, and improving word choice. Since each partnership was asked to start with the most recently completed essay and then work backwards, my students were working with their best piece of writing (theoretically, since they should be learning from each prior piece), and had plenty of essays they could work with in case they finished early.
Once it was time to switch to the other partner's writing, I shared how I just managed to publish my first book despite the fact that my high school English teacher called me "the worst writer he had ever had!" It just shows that you can accomplish great things if you work hard and have a great team around you (my editor & publisher for me, and their partner for them).
I told them all to revise confidently with their partner no matter if they feel they are the weaker writer. Everyone has something valuable they can contribute, and no one should feel that they are not a good enough writer to help out one of our peers!
I asked them all to take a stretch break and then get back to work! It was important that we made sure that each partner got equal time and effort in revising their story!
When the period was over, my students were drained, but their writing was drastically improved! Although it was now a collaborative effort, it became a new opportunity for my students to learn. I may struggle to identify exactly what each student did on their own, but that shouldn't be what matters most. I'd rather know that each of my students are going on to middle school more confident writers because they got the attention they needed and their questions answered. I can't always provide that for each of my students as often as they need it, but when we work collaboratively, many of my students' needs get met! The power of collaboration!
The comments section below contain my students' thoughts on the activity. These are the reflection questions they were asked to answer:
I only gave them 5 minutes to answer, because another class needed the computers, but you get the idea from their answers...