The writing process isn’t an easy one. I have always believed that writing is one of the hardest things that we learn to do. It involves so many different skills. You need to access your creativity, you need to be able to be organized and deal with frustration, and you need to be willing to take feedback and make changes based on what others are suggesting. Plus, you are really creating from nothing. THAT in itself isn’t easy, especially when you are expected to create in a way that makes sense for others. In other artist endeavors like dance, music and painting, the audience has room for interpretation, but with writing things need to make sense. There is a reason why not a lot of adults like to write or feel that they are any good. It is very difficult.
One of the great challenges, beyond the initial creations, is to then get feedback from others and make significant changes. Revising, for most writers, is a complicated task. When you have just finished a first draft it isn’t easy to then turn around and make changes to it. I have always supported this process using what is called the “6 Traits of Writing”. These traits help readers and writers identify certain aspects of writing and by doing so you narrow down focus. How many people have receive vague feedback from teachers or others in regards to their writing. “I liked this.” or “This doesn’t make sense”. or “Add more description.” The 6 traits let us give feedback specific to the writing. The 6 traits are…Ideas/Content, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Organization, Voice and Conventions. When we look at a piece of writing with these various lenses we can then more easily support the revision process. “Let’s focus on your word choice…..”
Along with teaching about the various traits I also help the students reflect on their own writing by having checklists that allow them to think about the traits. Once a piece of writing is finished students can use a checklist that asks them specific questions related to each trait. Do you have a lead that pulls people in? Do you start sentences in various ways? Are there places where descriptions are given using the senses? To sentences start with capitals and end with periods? etc. If there are things that students realize they have not done they can go back and make those changes on their own.
Following the individual reflection it is vital to get feedback from others. Having an audience makes the writing purposeful and it gives an opportunity to make changes that will help the audience understand or enjoy the piece more. But giving feedback isn’t easy either. A conference is a time to share work and get feedback and we use the same checklist. However, not everyone is able to give the kind of feedback that makes a significant difference even if there is a checklist to support the conversation. That means I spend a lot of time teaching how to conference. By modeling the conferencing process with the class everyone can start to see how a conference can and should be run.
Traditionally I have had students do one-on-one conferences. But the thing that I have begun to notice over the years is that students more often than not come back from those with only minor changes, regardless of the teaching and prep that we do. However, when we meet in larger groups, much more usable feedback is given. For that reason I have created conferencing teams, where groups of 3-4 kids meet together and use a group protocol that I have created (see photo below). This protocol is a structure for kids to give feedback mostly by asking questions of the writer. The idea is that the audience doesn’t give suggestions but rather shows where revisions can be done based on the questions that are asked.
For instance, Malachi was sharing a story with the group about a fish that was making its way from the ocean to the river and encountered obstacles in the form of sharks, damns and fishermen. As he was reading the group would ask questions “what kind of fish was it?” What was the river like?” “How big was the shark?” “What about using the word sniff instead of smell as it is more interesting?” These questions then can be taken back to be used to revise. The questions present a means for the writer to think about the places where they can rework their piece.
The pictures below are ones of kids conferencing together about their Automata stories.