Writing Circles Increase Accountability!

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.

The Moment Your Heart Beats Faster

I am a 7th grade teacher. That being said, I try to connect to all students. I meet with them, feel their vibe, and read like crazy to find books to suggest they read.

A 7th grade boy picked up sports book after sports book with stats and top ten lists. I was excited, as he defined himself as a nonreader. I praised his dedication to reading about his love of sports, but thought I might insert a suggestion of a book I thought he may like-Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. He devoured the book more quickly than I ever suspected. Exactly two days later he questioned outside of conference time, “Do you have anything like Long Way Down? I liked that.”

Oh my goodness! This put my mind into overdrive-hmmm…so many books went through my mind, but I needed to understand-was it the verse format or the theme. He loved both, so I thought more. This choice was so important-remember he defined himself as a nonreader and he was reading!!

Upon further thought, I decided Dear Martin would be my suggestion. A novel with a connection-Gun violence and making choices that will affect your entire life.

Oh no-and oh yes, because Dear Martin is such an awesome read , but I have only one copy and it was checked out. He said he wanted me to let him know as soon as it was returned. Daily this self defined “nonreader” checked in to see if it was returned, as he explored more of my sports selections.

Then, Dear Martin was returned! No way was I waiting for his class period, instead I knocked gently on his homeroom door and requested a discussion in the hallway. I showed him the book with the PG13 warning for language and violence to which he declared, “I have seen and heard worse!”

When he came to class hours later, he was already a quarter of the way through. This was an opportune time for a quick reading check in. I asked what he thought of Dear Martin. He responded with a smile, “I love it!”

What have I learned-We as teachers have so many opportunities to help redefine how our students see themselves as readers and the reading and learning we do behind the scenes truly does impact our students!

I know for a moment, at least, my student is a reader and may now change his definition!

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