My written feedback doesn’t always meet student writers where they are. Sometimes they don’t understand my advice, so either they ignore it, or else they incorporate it so completely that I know they have just copied my words without understanding their import. The most infamous example of this is once when I crossed out “dreams,” writing “redundant” above it, and the next draft read “hopes and redundant.”
One of the reasons peer feedback is important is students get immediate responses to their writing and answers to their questions at the level they are ready for. I can figure this out in conferences, but I can't always get to every student every period. So I love to see students engaged deeply with each other in trying to figure out together what is working and what isn’t.
While peer feedback has many benefits, it has to be set up well to make it worth the time. (I, too, have seen those student papers where the peer feedback has been either irrelevant or actually counterproductive.)
This week I tried something new—using a timer to structure peer feedback conversations on writing. What prompted the idea was a very extroverted class. They are great for discussions, but I'm still working on being really explicit and structured about when it is time for the discussion to end and the individual work—like writing—to begin.
Here's what it looked like. I asked students to find a partner and share their rough draft Google Doc. They were to spend the next 20 minutes as follows:
- 5 minutes (split 2 ways, 2.5 minutes for each partner): Share your goals for your piece, what you were trying to do, and what specifically you want feedback on.
- 5 minutes: Read each other’s papers.
- 5 minutes: Student A responds to student B. (Be sure to have a balance of affirmative and constructive feedback.)
- 5 minutes: Student B responds to student A. (Be sure to have a balance of affirmative and constructive feedback.)
The first 5 minutes are crucial: the writer starts in control. Feedback is less threatening when you have the chance to invite it, saying, “This is what I was trying to do. Did I succeed where I think I did? And please give me help where I know I need it.”
What kind of help might they ask for? We’ve done enough mini-lessons, conferring, and use of rubrics that students know some of the questions they can ask:
- Does my introduction hook you?
- Is my thesis clear, specific, and debatable?
- Does the order of my points make sense?
- Is my support sufficient, relevant, varied, and well-integrated?
- Are the transitions between paragraphs smooth and thoughtful?
The timer with its urgency and limitation seemed to be just the catalyst to get both classes (an extroverted one and an introverted one) to focus, have productive conversations, and be prepared to move to the next step of using the conversation in their writing.