Peer Revision = Better Writers

I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have the time to read ALL drafts of my 32 students for every writing assignment. It’s also a pet peeve of mine when kids sit passively and WAIT for the teacher to tell them what to do in their writing. I’ve never been a big fan of “correcting” student writing because more often than not, when they’d go to write their final drafts, NONE of my brilliant suggestions were implemented. It’s as if they never saw any of my suggestions!! (Or chose to ignore them!) Sooo. . . how to still improve student writing without spending hours of your precious time? Peer revision groups!
According to Steven Zimmelman & Harvey Daniels in their book, A Community of Writers, students need to write often about topics of genuine personal meaning, on topics they have chosen for themselves, and for authentic audiences. Other conditions to encourage revision include: writing should be regularly read aloud and models of writing in process are displayed around the room. Students work with peers as mutual audiences, editors, helpers and collaborators What really resonated me was: students write, knowing that revision will take place. No more “I’m done!” announcements, as students turn in their VERY ROUGH drafts, convinced of being finished.

Peer revision groups are one of the most effective strategies to improve student writing. Note: this does take A LOT of modeling! The most common statements students use prior to being taught how to effectively revise are: “It’s good. I liked it.” or “You should add more detail.” How are these comments helpful? They’re not! But they seem to be the “go-to” phrases of fourth graders.

First, I act goofy and model aloud with very boring fourth-grade-like comments to writing samples. My students usually become outraged and impatient with my unhelpful statements. Next, I teach students how to respond to these generic comments! :)
They catch on very quickly! After brainstorming together “What Good Writers Do”, we establish a criteria chart so children have specific criteria to listen or look for while reading. Once my class has the “buy-in” that THEY developed the benchmarks for “good” writing, I introduce a rubric aligned to the CCSS specific writing genre we are working on (which coincidentally is very similar to the criteria my class created!) 

Knowing the expected standards for writing is helpful not only as children are drafting, but it gives peers specific language to use when commenting.

How to Use Peer Revision Groups:
  1. Form a revision group of 4-5 students. (Each group ideally has 1 skilled/advanced writer, 1 struggling writer, and 2 proficient writers.) 
  2. Pass out a folder with essays to each group. No group is allowed to evaluate its own essays. 
  3. As a group, review the Scoring Rubric. (The rubric has been reviewed as a class on our screen/Smartboard, as well as a copy is in the 3-brads in the folder.) Carefully read and review each description together. 
  4. Next, each student reads an essay from the folder. Use the rubric to score it. On the scoring sheet, student readers write a score of 1, 2, 3 or 4, and a specific compliment about the essay and any questions or suggestions they may have. Students use the criteria from the rubric to help with comments. (It is important to emphasize this is NOT the time to comment on penmanship or spelling!) Students do not share their response with anyone in their group. 
  5. Students keep the scoring sheet and pass the essay to another reader in their group, who will read the same essay and score it using the rubric. 
  6. After 2 people have read & scored the same essay, check the scores given by the 2 readers. If the scores are the same, then the scoring is valid. If however, there is a large discrepancy (a 2 & a 4), the essay needs to be discussed by group members. Use the criteria from the rubric to talk about WHY each reader scored the paper the way they did. Come to a consensus. 
  7. Staple completed comment sheets to the student’s essay. 
  8. Return essays to the folder. 
Then I look them over before handing them back to students. This also builds in accountability of the peer editor.
Although students are initially timid to make suggestions, being cautious to not hurt the writer’s feelings, they soon understand that their comments are NOT about the writer, but about the writing! Students who receive a generic statement when they receive back their essays, will often get up and march indignantly to the peer who read their paper, and ask them to be more specific, citing the language from our anchor chart! You gotta love it!

If you'd like rubrics for the three CCSS writing genres, available for grades 2-5, check them out here:
Do you use peer revision groups? How do you teach students to revisit their writing? I’d love to hear from you!

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