By Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher
Though we know that midprocess conferring with each writer is the most effective way to elevate student writing, we are faced with an unforgiving reality: We can’t get to every writer when they need us. There are too many students and not enough time (Kelly’s classes averaged 38 students). Because of this, we must help our students to provide meaningful feedback to one another. We have found the most effective way of doing this is to place our students into small writing groups.
Writing groups, however, are not to be confused with peer editing groups. We do not put students into groups to edit each other’s drafts. We have two issues with this practice. One, our students’ developing understanding of grammar and sentence structure is often not strong. They make incorrect edits on their peers’ drafts, or simply say, “It looks good to me,” and nothing is gained for either writer. And two, when students believe the mission of reading someone else’s draft is limited to finding mistakes, they develop a tunnel vision that doesn’t address the bigger issues of the piece. Too many students clean up their own rough drafts instead of diving deeper into the content of them. “Is my comma in the right place?” is not the same conversation as “What do you know about my brother after reading this scene?” We want students hungry to communicate well, not just edit. We seek to build a community where students work through questions and hesitations as they write together. Who cares if the piece is flawlessly edited if the essay is underdeveloped and lifeless?