October 2012 Newsletter

Talking With Writers

Paying attention to how we talk with and to writers is critical to the development of their work and the development of our writing community.

In my work with teachers this month, I've asked many of them to reflect on the best and the worst feedback they have received as learners. Then, I asked them to share their stories with one another and with me.

These were meaningful conversations.

Many teachers described mentors whose inspired them to improve their work by providing them respectful, criteria-specific feedback. Just as many people recalled teachers whose criticism hurt them so much that they still lack confidence in their abilities to write well or problem solve or perform a particular skill.

Our words matter, and they are guided by the way that we think.

Last week, I challenged a group of high school teachers to assess the mind-set that underpins their feedback process. Many of us have been trained through previous experiences to focus on mistakes and to frame our feedback in highly critical and directive ways. Statements like these do little to produce learning:

  • Edit your work carefully!
  • Add detail!
  • This is confusing! Clarify!
  • Incomplete! Address the prompt thoroughly!
  • Support your claim with evidence.

Our efforts to provide positive feedback are often lack the degree of specificity that enables learning to occur as well:

  • Good!
  • I like this
  • Nice!
  • Interesting

How do we begin to talk with writers in ways are respectful, pointed, and productive? By allowing learning targets to guide us and by using criteria to frame our feedback. This is how we engage in peer review at Studio. What we do in our sessions can serve teachers and parents as well.

The next time you are asked to talk with writers about their work, consider using this simple process:

  • Invite the writer to ask for feedback on a specific element of the piece or to pose a specific question or dilemma. Help the writer articulate a goal or a target, relevant to this.
  • Look into the writer's work and physically point out where the strengths of the piece lie, with regard to the target.
  • Then, consider where the writer might begin to make improvements. Rather than directing their revision process by focusing on what is "wrong" and telling them what to do to "fix it", pose questions that can help the writer think deeply about the target, the work at hand, and the writing process. What could you ask the writer that might deepen their learning, enrich their revision process, and enhance the piece, with regard to the target?

Our October 13th session will empower Studio writers and teachers to reflect on the quality of the feedback they provide, using specific criteria. All of us will be thinking about the ways in which we might talk together better. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone!

Will We See You in October?

Plan to Write With Us on October 13th

During our last session, writers in our morning and afternoon sessions received curriculum overviews detailing the outcomes and activities for our school year sessions. If you weren't able to join us in September, you will receive your copy when we meet in October. The documents were also posted on our facebook page as well. Consider following our group there!

October's session will be devoted to the study of reflection as a Disposition of Practice, organization as an element of writer's craft, and storyboarding as a strategy that can enable writers to produce a quality draft in any genre!

Writers should plan to bring any drafts that they have been working on at home, their writing folders, and their notebooks.

Elementary writers will be creating puppet shows, and secondary writers will be crafting poems and if they wish, considering a unique publishing opportunity.

If you cannot attend our October 13th session, please let Angela know by contacting her at 716-418-3730 or via email at stockmanangela@gmail.com.