The Power of Talk Motivates Students to Become Better Writers
During the beginning of the school year I began noticing that my students were naturally gravitating towards writing stories together in partnerships or small groups. I was thrilled to see how engaged and motivated students were in their writing processes. I began researching ways in which writing partnerships have been implemented in other classrooms, and found that there are many different approaches for using partnerships to enhance student learning.
From the beginning of the year I noticed my students were interested in collaborating on stories. Their interest sparked my curiosity in how I might integrate writing partnerships into our Writers’ Workshop block. As I began researching I found that it is suggested to have writing partners paired heterogeneously and by similar abilities (Hsu, 2009). Some research suggested that students stay in the same partnership for the course of a year, while other research suggested that students should have the opportunity to rotate in order to experience working with a variety of people (Bajtelsmit & Naab, 1994). My first step was to brainstorm a list of students who were of similar writing abilities and who would be able to work together efficiently. After pairing students, we took a week to establish expectations on how partnerships could be used to help them in their writing.
Lucy Calkins noted that when teachers place an emphasis on peer interaction during the writing process, student writing reflects their changing concept of what good writing looks like (Calkins, 1983). There are two ways in which writing partnerships can be structured. The first is by students collaboratively writing one piece together. The second is having students write their pieces individually and then come together to confer about their writing. Both types of writing are useful in their own way.
In my classroom I’ve found that students are highly motivated when they are able to choose their own partners and write stories collaboratively. When partners write collaboratively they have to structure their thoughts and plan ahead. Partnership (or collaborative) writing supports the development of “planning, intelligent questioning, reorganization and restructuring to counterbalance the traditional focus on mechanics and the final product” (Boyle and Charles, 2014). Students are unaware of the fact that they are developing these skills because they are so wrapped up in composing their stories.
The benefits of students using partnerships to confer about their own writing are evident on a daily basis. Writers’ Workshop can be an overwhelming time of the day for teachers, with students lining up to ask for advice and edits for their writing. It is impossible to read, provide valuable feedback, and edit 19 pieces of writing every single day. The endless line of students that begins to grow is writing time that is being wasted, “Independent writing stabilizes, as the students are reoriented, no longer flocking to the teacher as the sole source of support” (Hsu, 2009). Students can use their time more productively if they have a specific person to go to for ideas and feedback. This partnership also substantially increases students’ practice with critiquing writing and recommending next steps to their peers. Vygotsky says, “what the child can do in cooperation today, he can do alone tomorrow” (Boyle and Charles, 2014). Having students responsible for providing feedback helps them to become more aware of errors in their own writing. Establishing writing partnerships allows the teacher more freedom to provide meaningful feedback to more students and provides students with the opportunity to receive feedback from multiple sources.
In order to collect data on my students’ writing, I used the app, Evernote. With Evernote I was able to take pictures and voice recordings of my students working on their writing. I started by interviewing the students I chose to track, and found that they were all happy about writing in partnerships. Evernote was an extremely important tool in helping document and keep track of data, allowing me to take notes instantly to explain my pictures and recordings.
Partnership writing has proven that the power of talk is a strong motivator for students and has contributed to the success of developing a classroom full of students who are genuinely excited about writing. Partnership writing can be implemented in several different ways in the classroom, so teachers have the ability to choose what will work best for their students. Teachers can use assigned, long-term partnerships for students to develop an idea and editing buddy. The benefits of an assigned, long-term partnership include building strong interpersonal relationships, in which students become comfortable with one another and can rely on each other for new ideas. Teachers can also allow students to choose their own partners to work collaboratively on a piece of writing. The benefits of allowing students to choose their own partnerships include writing about things they’re passionate about and bonding through friendship, as well as being a huge motivation for writing in general. The Power of Talk does not only belong to teachers, it is also a powerful tool for learning between students.
- Bajtelsmit, L., & Naab, H. (1994). Partner Writers: A Shared Reading and Writing Experience. Reading Teacher, 48(1), 91-93.
- Boyle, B., & Charles, M. (2011). "The Three Hags and Pocohontas": How Collaboration Develops Early Years Writing Skills. Literacy, 45(1), 10-18.
- Brouwer, K. L. (2012). Writing Motivation of Students with Language Impairments. Child Language Teaching And Therapy, 28(2), 189-210.
- Calkins, L. (1983). Lessons from a Child: On the Teaching and Learning of Writing.
- Daiute, C., Dalton, B., & National Center for the Study of Writing and Literacy, B. A. (1992). Collaboration between Children Learning To Write: Can Novices Be Masters?.
- Denton, P. (2008). The Power of Our Words. Educational Leadership, 66(1), 28-31.
- Hsu, C. (2009). Writing Partnerships. Reading Teacher, 63(2), 153-158.
- Topping, K., & Scottish Council for Research in Education, E. h. (2001). Peer- and Parent-Assisted Learning in Reading, Writing, Spelling and Thinking Skills. SCRE Spotlights 82.