Today's class period is devoted to peer response groups.
I begin by distributing a peer response form to each student. The first thing I ask them to do is to write their name on the front and back of the form in the space that asks for "Name of Writer" (I make double-sided copies of the form, so that two students can respond to one essay, one on the front and one on the back). Once they have written their names on both sides, I explain that this form will travel with their essay, to peer reader #1, and then to peer reader #2. I explain that when they leave class today, they will leave with their rough drafts and the comments about their drafts from two peers, written on their forms.
I display the form from my computer onto the back wall so that I can walk my students through the procedure before arranging them into their groups.
I explain that they should make any corrections on the draft only if they are certain that something is a mistake. I do not make mechanical corrections one of the required tasks of peer response--I find too much of a mixed bag of skills among my students-- but always encourage them to help each other out in this department, if they are confident about their corrections.
I then explain that the majority of the questions they will be addressing about the drafts of their peers have to do with organization and with what makes the essay memorable. The focus on organization is meant to test whether or not the lesson on creating and using working outlines was effective. Since acknowledging and celebrating memorable language has been central focus of the unit on The House On Mango Street, I am requiring that my students likewise reflect this focus in their own writing.
I instruct my students to tactfully indicate to any peer writer that an area of a draft might need work. For example, if they struggle to identify what makes a peer paragraph memorable, then perhaps they might explain that in their written response, even offering a suggestion for improving it.
I remind them that at least one suggestion for the writer is required for the last question, and then explain that the mini rubric is based on the extensive rubric that I will provide for them in the next class session.
I have collected the rough drafts at the beginning of class and now arrange them in sets of three, based on strategic peer groupings, making sure that each group has at least one of my stronger writers in it. Because I cannot count on every student showing up with a rough draft for workshop, I have learned to arrange the groups on the spot, by now knowing my students' strengths and weaknesses as writers from prior group arrangements around classroom activities, as well as from their diagnostic writing samples from the beginning of the year.
As I arrange the groups, I call out the names, hand the set of three drafts to the nearest group member, and instruct my students to wait until I have assigned all groups before relocating. When all groups have been assigned, I tell my students that they have 60 seconds to find their members and to get started.
Once the groups begin reading and responding, and I have addressed any questions or concerns that may have arisen, I am able to address the needs of any students who, for whatever reason, have not shown up with a draft to workshop. I always explain to these students that my first priority is to address the students who are ready to workshop, and that I will get to those who are without drafts and address their needs just as soon as I am assured that the workshop groups are under way.
As the groups are working, I provide whatever assistance is needed, whether to the peer groups or to the individuals who are working on their late drafts.
If peer response is performed thoroughly and thoughtfully, then my students are usually working right up until the end of the period, often needing more time in the next class session to finish.
With the last remaining minutes of class, I ask for a show of hands from those groups who were unable to finish their peer response. If the majority of students raise their hands (which is usually the case), then I explain that I will make more time to complete the process in the following class session.