Last Monday was our first class getting underway with our readings! We read “Rhetoric and Composition” by Janice M. Lauer, which was a bit dry, but informative nonetheless and a strong foundational kick off to the class. My classmates and I, especially those who are teachers, were in agreement that as we were reading, we wished we had guided questions to focus our task. In essence, the article included soooo much information that we wanted to know what was important to bring to our discussion and what we were expected to talk about. Dr. Zamora told us that she wants us to decide what is important and what we want to get out of these articles. I teach middle school, and I think that is the one phrase they hate the most when I answer their questions: “Whatever you think is important” or when they ask if something is “long” enough and I respond with, “You tell me.” However, as I completed the readings for this week, I very much kept in mind what Dr. Zamora said and decided to make my own meaning out of these articles.
“One Approach to Guiding Peer Response”
By Kim Jaxon
The first article for this week was “One Approach to Guiding Peer Response” by Kim Jaxon and I was hooked from the moment I read the title. The first thing I loved about this article was that Jaxon titles it “ONE” approach, not claiming to have “THE” approach to guiding peer response, but rather letting her reader know there are many and the one she is about to describe is simply one that worked in her classroom. Bringing me to my second immediate response to this article: she is a teacher. She is writing through her personal experience, but what makes Jaxon stand out to me is her use of Appendixes to showcase student examples that support her explanations of techniques. I have read articles and been to countless professional development where strategies are explained without providing concrete examples. As a teacher, I like to leave PD or finish an article with concrete ideas and lessons I can use in my classroom, and after reading this article, I cannot wait to implement guided peer responses in my classroom!
In “One Approach to Guiding Peer Response”, Jaxon discusses using peer responses in her classroom. She designed an approach where students understand that “knowledge is created in dialogue with others” and provides a context for students to understand why they are doing the work they are doing. She claims that structured and guided peer responses allow students the ability to learn from each other, take pride in sharing their work and ownership of it, as their peers will be reading it, along with allowing students to reflect on their own approaches. She also outlines the best approaches for guided peer response, including: Peer to Peer Memos, creating guided questions enforcing the importance of reading and rereading the first draft outside of the classroom, avoiding grammar mistakes, and focusing on two or three substantive ideas.
As I was reading, I was reflecting on my practice of peer response. I’ll admit, when I planned my peer response days, I viewed them as an “easy” day for me. I would create a peer response sheet or guide and the students would work to complete them, return the paper to their peer, MAYBE discuss their thoughts, and then the individuals would spend the rest of their time revising. I knew I needed a better system, but unfortunately was bogged down with the rest of the curriculum that I sacrificed peer responses. This article has jolted me awake. Peer response is a pivotal component of the writing process and one that students struggle with. By changing my thinking about peer response, I hope to be able to change theirs. My goal for this upcoming school year is to train them to think analytically about their peers paper, including the components Jaxon suggests, such as providing suggestions but explaining why the peer is suggesting that. I will take the time to plan lessons where we work together to create guided questions, or work together to create peer responses on one assignment, Which brings me to the question: Where can we get a copy of the “Needle Exchange Essay?”
“Reflection in the Writing Classroom”
While fresh off reading Jaxon’s ideas regarding guided peer responses, I was eager to build upon my ideas through reading Yancey’s “Reflection in the Writing Classroom.” The two texts were paired together beautifully, as each dealt with the concept of reflection. While Jaxon offered a way for students to engage in meaningful reflection, Yancy chose to present her research on reflection, beginning by defining reflection in a number of ways. She references reflection as a process of dialogue where we must first set specific goals, develop strategies to reach those goals, and then decide on means of determining if we have met those goals. My interpretation is that reflection is very much goal driven, but according to Michael Polanyi, identifying the problem is the first step of reflection. He explains that for any discovery or any act of creation, you must be able to see a hidden problem is the only way to begin knowing, or reflecting. From there, the goal setting can begin.
Yancy continues to explain that there are three types of reflection: reflection-in-action, constructive reflection, and reflection-in-presentation. Each of these reflective processes builds upon the other, and translates from writers to our profession as teachers as well. Reflection is not simply thinking about your work, but it is process-oriented. According to the article, “reflection entails a looking forward to goals...as well as a casting backward to see where we have been.” I find this incredibly interesting. As I was reminded while reading Jaxson’s piece, I do not hold my students to the same standard as a hold myself. As a teacher, I am constantly engaging in the reflective dialogue, both with myself and my colleagues. We participate in the internal and external dialogue of refining our practice and growing our ideas. We identify the problems in our teaching and discuss goals to improve upon them. However, I hand my students a revision guide/editing checklist and expect that to suffice. Sure, I conference with my students, especially during this stage, but it is not enough. Revision/editing is also looked upon as the final stage before the final submitted for a grade draft. Revision is a process though, not the final step. It is something students should actively be participating in at every step of the way. I find that they view it as “correcting” when that is not the case at all. I recognize that this may be a flaw in my presentation and expectation of “revision” and after reading this article, I have “revised” my own beliefs. I believe that revision should take place at all times and through all mediums, from interacting with the thoughts on the page, to in your head, to the thoughts of the peers around you. I believe that Jaxon’s practice of guided peer responses is one strategy I can employ to get my students thinking about revision in a different matter. One major idea jumped out at me as I was reading, at that was the idea of holding students accountable. Teaching eighth graders especially, I preach the concept of being accountable, but it is normally centered around being responsible for doing, completing, and turning in assignments on time. I have not thought about the idea of accountability in writing until now. Yancey mentions that historically, the school model is that students learn and teachers judge. She states, “...students are not responsible at all for knowing their own texts; teachers will do that-come to know the texts-in the process of judging them” (18). This was a moment of realization for me that this “historic” idea is SO TRUE! My immediate thought was that our eighth graders are the epitome of this. They are responsible for creating a thesis paper for the second half of their year. The research begins in Social Studies around February, with the Language Arts teachers picking up the writing aspect right around spring break, with the final paper due the first week of June. We take them through the researching state, the outlining state, and the constructing your ideas in ways that make sense state, and let’s be honest, it keeps those crazy, “I’m basically in high school and over middle school” eighth graders busy at the end of the year. We tell them to pick a topic they care about because they’ll be working with it for so long, and most of them do, and do a decent job, but do they know their writing? DO they know their texts? No. I truly do not believe they do. They know how to follow a formula and they know what the teachers expect. So I think it’s about time we change our expectation. Let’s raise the stakes for our students and foster intellectual, and reflective, thinkers!