Writing Groups + Classrooms

My writing group is an important part of my life as a writer. It’s more than just accountability, but feedback and camaraderie and, well, if I’m super honest, fun. When I was a classroom teacher, I didn’t do a very good job of establishing writing groups, or crit partners, for my students. I see now they were missing out on a crucial part of being a writer.

If I have to pick one word to describe the impact of a writing group for writers it is this:

Empower.

Writing groups empower individuals to be the best they can be. An effective writing group adjusts to the individual needs. Every member doesn’t get the same treatment, but everyone gets what they need. I think it would be difficult to understand this if I weren’t a member of a writing group.

So I’ve been thinking about how these would work in classrooms. How might we tap into the power of writing groups with young writers? I’m not sure, because it’s one of those things I’ve never done…but would like to try. If I were to try, here’s a little list of the steps I would take to get them going.

  1. Assign crit partners. These would be long-term relationships between two writers. At this point in the year, I might have a good sense of how to partner writers in order to gain effective working relationships, however, I might get input for kids too. It just depends.
  2. Give crit partners time to talk. I would make this part of the share session. What I mean, actually, is the share would be devoted to crit partners talking one on one. I’m not sure how I would organize it. Eventually, it would be a natural part of our workshop, but initially, I would be super intentional about giving partners time to talk about their work. Maybe every day for a week, they would be sharing with their crit partners during the end of workshop share. At first I imagine I would just let them talk — get to know each other, and find out about their writing projects, strengths, and complaints. I wouldn’t try to micromanage this too much…I would trust (and give myself lots of little mental lectures that the writers in the room can be trusted to talk about their writing lives) the process.
  3. Give crit partners time to read and respond to each other’s writing. Eventually I would begin nudging their conversations. What do you like about what the writer is doing? What do you notice the writer does more than once that is effective? What is your favorite line in the draft? What are you learning about a topic (informational) or a character (narrative), or the sound of words (poetry). These kinds of questions push for specific feedback…and help to build trust.
  4. Help crit partners shape responses to nudge revision. I’d help students learn to ask powerful questions in order to help the writer think about the writing in a new way. I’d also help them learn how to spot confusing parts and ways to let the writer know of the issue in constructive ways. A big part of this is the conversation that happens after the writer makes revisions and the response of the crit partner.
Now I know this isn’t a writing group…yet. After these relationships are humming along and the bugs have been worked out, I imagine putting two sets of partners together to make a group. The group is powerful because of the extra eyes, brains, and voices. It’s no longer how just one person sees the work, but how several respond. However, the crit partner relationship would still be maintained.
It is difficult to develop a relationship where people feel comfortable offering feedback. Helping students to develop this within partnerships will take time. To read more about this relationship in my own writing life, click over to Ruth Ayres Writes to read my post about my writing group.

If anyone is brave to step off this cliff, I’d love to hear how it goes. Even better, I’d love to hear from people who have established writing groups within their classrooms.