I just finished an intensive two weeks with the Columbus Area Writing Project where a group of seven of us met every day to write and give each other feedback on chapters we are writing for a book. We wrote for 2 1/2 hours each morning and then met for feedback in the afternoon. As the group leader, I took on the role of editor, something new for me. When taking on any new role, I am always a little uncomfortable. These were my friends and colleagues I was working with.
When I met with the writers, I had my own editors (who've been doing this editing thing a long time) swirling around in my head. I worried that I wouldn't be able to give valuable feedback to move people forward. What if someone didn't like what I had to say? Taking on this role had many more challenges than I first imagined.
Now that the two weeks are over, I know I've learned some valuable lessons that I will take back to my classroom:
- The type and timing of feedback is critical. Each writer found different types of feedback to be helpful at different times in the writing process. How often do I sit down next to a child to give feedback, not knowing if the child is ready for it or not? I know that I will be explicitly teaching my students how to give and ask for quality feedback. And I will make it a point to ask students for what they might need as a writer when I sit down next to them.
- Talk is an important part of the feedback process. Questions can spur thinking forward. Allowing time for both of these is important.
- Over the two weeks, our group created a strong bond. That came from not only working hard together, but also laughing together and sharing stories. It's made me rethink how I might form writing partnerships and writing groups in my classroom. I'm thinking that next year, I will form small groups that will stay together for an extended period of time so that the students can get to know each other as writers.
- Everybody's needs are different. (I already knew that, but these last two weeks were a good reminder). Some of us liked listening to music while we wrote. Some of us needed to be by ourselves. Some people needed to print out their work and write on top of it, while others did all of their work digitally. I ask myself how I can do a better job of helping kids find the process that works for them.
The thoughts will continue to swirl in my head as I process the work we did together. And once again, I am reminded of how important it is for teachers of writers to be writers themselves.
As I go back and look at the final reflections I did on Friday, I know that my last sentence will always ring true:
My take aways...I still don’t have this whole thing down. I am always learning and evolving and taking that thinking into my teaching.
I will take the lessons learned these last two weeks and hopefully be an even better teacher and coach when I go back to school in August.