When Pernille Ripp discussed in her blog writing circles, I took notice. Classes differ in dynamics from year to year, and this year I have a vocal class, who needs time to discuss, plan, and share each part of the writing process. I decided to try these dynamic circles with my classes.
This can be both a blessing and a curse at times, but with a plan in mind and flexibility, I dove into the process of establishing the writing circles. Students interviewed each other and then made suggestions as to who they thought they would mesh well with as a writing team. I then took the self evaluations and interview results, and used the information while creating the circles.
Students then met with their groups. Listening practice, verbal sharing, and Round Robin writing were used to create a bond for the team of writers, while enjoying laughter and creativity within the circles increased participation. Discussions surrounding expectations of members of each writing circle were discussed and examples of criteria established.
Now, not all students were immediately on board with this process, as sharing writing requires a different level of trust. As middle level learners, fear enters into the sharing of your ideas. As an educator with a Master’s Degree specializing in Middle Level Education and several years as a middle level writing instructor, I knew I needed to alleviate their worries if writing circles were going to work. I assured students of independence during initial planning before embarking on a share session with their writing circles.
Throughout the process, I found myself facilitating, rather than refocusing groups and reminding students of timelines. After each writing mini-lesson, writing circle members would gather and either assist members with incorporating or editing for the technique. Feedback was offered several times throughout the drafting process, which was much more meaningful than the number of times I would be able to check in with groups of 26-32 students at a time. Writing circle members found themselves as idea generators, authors, editors, revisers, and supporters. Members were held accountable within their circles and the results have been amazing.
So what were my observations as I assessed student work? Overall data shows an increase in completion rate, less students opting to not turn in the assignment, and an increased use of figurative language and mechanics used properly. The previously assigned paper resulted in 13% of my students submitting incomplete assignments, while 3% submitted nothing. With the incorporation of writing circles, 2% of my students submitted incomplete papers, while zero submitted nothing.
Now, is the increase solely based on the incorporation of writing circles? I do believe writing circles positively impacted student achievement, but the genre must also be considered, as a memoir and urban legend are quite different. Although, the genre type may have influenced student achievement, I do believe the layers of improvement are beyond the difference between genres.
Students incorporated a depth and voice beyond what I have experienced this early in the year. I attribute this to the number of editors viewing and offering feedback for the author. This multi-tiered approach offered students several opportunities to improve their writing. Figurative language was detailed to the point where I found myself taking heed of the cautionary tale.
Writing Circles will be incorporated throughout writing this year as the benefits outweigh any negatives and the impressive papers submitted have sold me on the technique as student accountability has increased. Give it a try, as it is well worth the planning involved.