After having attended the UCI Writing Project Summer Institute for Teachers, I was inspired to implement Writing Groups because with much self-reflection, I realized that I was teaching writing in my classroom, but not necessarily creating an environment that treated my students as writers. I did not want to be the teacher that, like Kelly Gallagher mentioned, was teaching the 4×4 model with a piece of literature each quarter followed by a writing assignment. I never viewed myself as a writer, but after my own experience in my personal writing group last summer, I noticed a new passion for writing, and believed that if I provided my students with this opportunity, they would benefit just as much, if not more than me.
During the first few weeks of the Fall semester, my students wrote the Memory Snapshot paper and I introduced them to their assigned Writing Groups. I used Fridays as Writing Group days and explained the process. Each student needed to bring enough copies of his or her writing for each member of the Writing Group and he or she was to ask for his or her group’s members to either “bless, address, or press” their written compositions (see screenshot of Google Slides directions below). Students knew going into the process that I was not grading them other than giving credit or no credit for being prepared with enough copies of their writing. At the end of each Friday’s meeting, Writing Groups pick a piece to showcase and I place the writing up on my Showcase wall (see image belows). Writing Groups meet once a month for the whole school year. Below is a list of the writing assignments for each Writing Group meeting thus far.
September: Memory Snapshot
October: Object Piece
November: Open (writing of choice)
December: Mrs. Dubose Speech
January: no meeting
February: Allegory Project
March: Writing Feedback w/ 6th graders
After three months of Writing Groups, I felt the need to do more with my students’ writing, so each class began a blog; I wanted students to experience the feeling of publishing a piece of writing and having it in an open forum for feedback. Now, students meet in Writing Groups once a month and post one composition a month on the class blog. Students also have the freedom to post any piece they would like whenever they so choose. For some students, this is their only outlet to share their writing and explore their creativity. I have embedded class time for students to go onto the blog and read their peers’ posts and offer feedback and or post comments.
Finally, this past month I collaborated with a seventh grade teacher in my district and we used my Writing Groups to offer peer feedback to his seventh graders as they wrote an argumentative essay about drone racing. His students put links to both their planning documents and rough drafts, and in Writing Groups, my students pulled up these documents and offered the seventh graders feedback on how best to improve their writing. My students were very engaged with the process, and the seventh grade teacher commented that his students found the feedback very helpful. I think this collaboration made my students feel even more like writers as they were the “experts” offering editing and revision advice to younger members in their community.
Excerpts from student writing:
“Heat, the silent monster attacking me as the gleaming pinnacle of half dome lies in sight, rising above the vast Yosemite Valley. One who dare make the near 20 mile loop to reach this sight will see the end a staggering 2 miles from the rocky peak. I turn to my dad “I can see the top! Are we almost there?” he replies “Were close, but it’s still a little ways.” That is his favorite phrase “it’s a little ways” he uses it whenever we go on these kinds of trips because it maintains hope. 2 members of our party are ahead of me, trudging along the trail as two others are slightly behind. We all have one goal, and it lies 500 feet above us still. That may seem meek to the 5000 we have just accomplished, but the previous miles were nothing compared to the final trials of the dirt riddled trail that lingers with the aroma of pine. Ahead lies step 1 of a 200 foot direct stair climb. Each step is a full 2 feet at least as I scramble to the top. By this point I had completely depleted my water source and my mouth felt like it was filled to the brim with cotton. Yet, I still managed to persist in my climb. The man at the bottom of the stairs had warned us of the ominous storm clouds rising before us. “If it begins to storm, don’t come back to find me, because I’ll be gone.” I could not understand how we could be fearful of a storm in weather that was so excruciatingly burning. “
“Stumbling into my room with blurry eyes filled with tears, I flung myself onto my fluffy couch, wishing that my life ceased to exist. Today included one of the biggest tragedies I had ever faced, and all I wanted was to be alone in the darkness, under a bundle of cozy blankets and silence to mourn in my sadness. Anger unexpectedly washed over me as I violently knocked down anything near me. But then I saw it, and paused. A pillow, soft blue with faded sewn flowers and trees powdered in dust. Nothing that special, as you might think, except for the fact that it had the touch and protection from my beloved grandmother. It seemed like ages passed from her sorrowful death, but it had only happened an hour ago. Memories of her joyful laughter and somber hugs suddenly flip like pages in a book in my mind, moving faster and faster, until it finally stops at the last page.
I am four years old again, running with my bare, pudgy feet on our family’s grassy backyard. It’s a bright morning, with sunlight shining through the clear, azul sky and occasional puffy clouds drifting past. Grandma sits relaxed on a brittle, rocking chair made of cheap, worn-down wood. She smiles at my poor attempt to catch a nearby butterfly, for I am fascinated by its vibrant colors and intricate patterns. I beam back, and walk towards her direction, leaving the butterfly to happily flutter away.
Noticing that she has a fistful of vibrant colored fabrics in her right hand, and an unraveled blue spool of thread in her other, I curiously ask, “What are we playing today, Grandma?”
She chuckles, replying, “No, dear, this is a gift I am making for you. It’s your early birthday present, and I am almost done.”
I excitedly yell, “Oh, Grandma, thank you! What is this gift you are preparing?”
“You’ll see. Let us keep it as a mystery for now,” she answers playfully.
I then sit beside her, watching her slow but steady progress. Examining her careful fingers as she skillfully weaves the needle back and forth through the fabric, and her squinting eyes that strain to see and ensure her accuracy, I begin to realize her immense heart that drives her efforts in working her hardest.”
Mrs. Dubose Speech:
“The Mrs. Dubose of my life was not a singular circumstance or incident but instead was an epic odyssey of ups and downs spanning over a period of few years that would sear a mark into my subconscious, leaving a permanent scar.
The beginning starts in a fifth series BMW parked in a Sprout’s parking lot. Imagine 10 year old me lazily reclining in the passenger seat, regretting tagging along to the grocery store, when my chipmunk face contorts with the sudden awareness of what felt like my entire chest cavity vibrating from the inside. Three Google searches, two helicopter parents, and one doctor’s appointment later, I was diagnosed with paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia. That very scary sounding name translates into the heart’s electrical circuit board has extra cells that randomly short out, messing up the pathways (imagine a train track changing when it is not supposed to), causing my heart to beat over 200 times per minute. A simple surgery could correct it, but I decided that was too serious of a solution to what seemed like a not so serious problem, and I agreed to “wait and see what happens.””
Links to Class Blogs:
I knew almost instantly that implementing Writing Groups was going to change how my students and I viewed writing in the classroom. As I walk the classroom during Writing Group days, the conversations I hear about writing and revision are almost inexplicable, especially coming from young thirteen and fourteen year old boys and girls. What warms my heart is when I say that this week is Writing Groups, and I hear an overwhelming, “Yes!” The following outlines the changes I have observed in my classroom since Writing Group Implementation:
- Student desire to get effective writing feedback from peers
- Students feel part of a community within the classroom
- Students believe their writing can be improved with practice and revision
- Students pay closer attention to author’s craft while reading (mimic writer’s moves)
- Students are developing a growth rather than fixed mindset about their writing