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Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5

Program 11: Conversations Among Peer Writers

One way to provide an authentic audience for young writers is to have them share their work with each other. This program shows how teachers help students respond to their peers by modeling appropriate behavior and teaching protocols for student responses.

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Watch the 30-minute video “Conversations Among Writing Peers.” If you prefer to watch the video in segments, you can stop at the times suggested below or use the Video Guide (PDF) — a detailed outline of the video — to help you determine places to stop for discussion.

Answer the questions that follow each segment, jotting down your answers in your notebook or using them as discussion starters.

Modeling a New Strategy

In the first segment, Jeanne Boiarsky has introduced her third-grade students to “Receiving the Piece,” a peer response strategy from Donald Graves’s Writing: Teachers and Children at Work. She uses former students to model the strategy. Then her students practice “Receiving the Piece” in pairs. (Stop after Jack Wilde’s interview. You will find this image at the end of the segment, approximately three minutes into the video.)

  • In what ways does “Receiving the Piece” help validate student writers?
  • How does the fishbowl demonstration clarify “Receiving the Piece” for the students? In what other instances might you use a fishbowl in your classroom?
  • During the sample peer conference, how does Jeanne coach her students to move beyond their initial retelling of each other’s pieces? Think of other ways you might help students learn to become more independent with “Receiving the Piece” or some other conferencing strategy.

Jeanne Boiarsky: Lesson Background (PDF)

Taking the Next Step

In this segment, Lindsay Dibert’s fifth-grade students have been talking with peers about their personal narratives and receiving feedback in the form of questions. After two students finish this initial conversation, they spontaneously begin to confer about the leads they have written for their pieces.  (Stop after Jack’s interview about students becoming more independent. You will find this image at the end of the segment, approximately 19 minutes into the video.)

  • What specific behaviors did you observe in Stephan and Emily’s conference? What do they reveal about the quality of the students’ interaction?
  • How does Stephan and Emily’s conference compare to the two third-graders’ conference in Jeanne’s classroom? How would you account for the differences?
  • Lindsay checks in with Stephan and Emily to see what they have accomplished during their conference. What other ways could you evaluate the success of peer conferences in your classroom?

Lindsay Dibert: Lesson Background (PDF)

Observing an Independent Peer Conference

In the final segment, three of Silvia Edgerton’s fifth-graders engage in a conference during writing workshop, with two of the students responding to the third student’s personal narrative.  (Play to the end of the program.)
  • Earlier in the school year, Silvia used her own writing to model peer conferencing. What benefits do you see in this teaching practice?
  • During their conference, the students refer to revision strategies displayed on a chart on the classroom wall. Describe resources that you already have in your classroom or resources you could add that would help students confer.
  • Silvia’s students use strategies specific to bilingual writers, such as Spanglish (a mixture of Spanish and English that has evolved in the Hispanic population of the U.S.) and code switching (mixing English and a second language) to write more authentic dialogue. How could you apply similar strategies with students who speak only English, keeping in mind the dialects and colloquialisms your students use?