I attended Kathleen Tolan’s “Once You Have Taught Workshops for Years, How Do You Go from Good to Great? Tap the Power of Peer Conferring and Supporting Student Independence and Goal-Setting.” Workshop at the TCRWP Writing Institute. Kathleen’s session made me realize that once we’ve been doing this work (i.e., writing workshop) for awhile, it’s up to us to help kids learn how to confer with each other in meaningful ways. Basic writing partnerships can be enhanced by increasing our expectations of what kids are capable of in partnerships.
- Justin: He listened well. He was persistent. He was clear and blunt (e.g., your transitions aren’t explicit). He didn’t give her the answer. Rather he explained himself and showed her his own writing.
- Angelina: She defended her writing (which showed us what she knew and didn’t know). She responded like a writer when he taught her something. She had an a-ha moment.
Would you like your students to move from working in writing partnerships to having the ability to engage in peer conferring? Here are some tips:
- Show students this video and lead a discussion about what worked, what they noticed these writers doing, and how they could transfer what they observed Angelina and Justin doing to the work they do with their writing partner.
- Employ the P, Q, P Technique. Jim Vopat suggested the “Praise, Question, Polish” Technique for peer conferring in Micro Lessons in Writing. I created a scaffold for my fourth graders to use, based on this technique, several years ago. It’s a good way to get kids, who are new to peer conferring, started with providing each other compliments and critical feedback. Click here to download the sheet. After a few uses of this sheet, it should fade away, like all scaffolds.
- Fishbowl great conferences. You can do one of two things when you notice a partnership engaged in a powerful peer conference. You can stop your entire class and invite them to listen and watch what their peers are doing. If you’d prefer not to stop everyone, record the conference on your smartphone and show it to your entire class during share time or the following day.
- Have partnerships meet at least twice a week. Tolan asserted this kind of frequency not only helps you as a teacher (once kids are trained to confer with each other), but helps build rapport amongst writers.
How do you help your students learn to confer in meaningful ways? Please share your tips by leaving a comment.