Peer Revision and Editing with Knee to Knee Talk + Google Forms



It’s no secret I love Google Forms, and I am already finding ways to incorporate them into our learning activities in the War Eagle Writing Studio.  We have been immersed in our rough drafts of our personal narrative the last two or so weeks; this week, we are working on revision strategies and basic editing techniques.


I wanted students to have a chance to share their drafts with a writing buddy/partner today, so here was the game plan for today:

  1.  The “warm-up” on the board as students came in was to get his/her assigned Chromebook (I have a set of 20) and the printed copy of his/her rough draft off our community table.
  2.  Next, I asked students to log into our district portal and open Google Drive (the form I created was open only to Hall County students, so they needed to be in their Google accounts to open the shortcut link for the form I was sharing).
  3. Next, I instructed students to first find a writing partner/buddy of his/her choosing.    Since the point was to get constructive feedback, I reminded students that a friend was not always the best choice and encouraged them to consider working with someone new or unfamiliar.  I gave students about 90 seconds or so to find a partner.
  4. I stressed that the purpose of our peer helping time was not to tear each other down but instead, to provide constructive feedback to each other to help us grow as writers.  In addition, I stressed the importance of reading drafts aloud and sharing with others to see and hear our writing with fresh eyes and ears.
  5. Once students were with partners, I told them we would be reading our drafts aloud to our writing buddies/partners.   With the help of a student volunteer, I modeled what it mean to sit “knee to knee” facing each other, and we talked about how we could show respect and good listening skills.  Because our personal narratives are fairly brief, I told them to do their sharing in 5-6 minutes.   Once we were sure that everyone was knee to knee and not sitting at tables, we began our reading.
  6. As students read to each other, I projected a slide on the board with Google Presentations (my best friend this school year) with the shortcut link and “next steps”:  once students finished reading, they were to exchange drafts, push their chairs back to the work tables, and complete the Google Form that had a series of short answer questions.  I gleaned these short answer feedback prompts from Jim Vopat’s wonderful book, Writing Circles.




Because I teach writing to students who need extra support and enrichment across grades 6, 7, and 8, I made a few adjustments as needed for specific classes or as points of need became clear:

  • I realized quickly that my 6th and 7th grade learners needed me to review the short answer evaluation/feedback prompts in more detail than the 8th grade classes, so I made sure to take time to review what the prompts meant.
  • I realized midway through the day that students might need some additional questions where they could select an answer from a menu to help provide some specific feedback aligned to the assessment rubric for the personal narrative.  I structured these as “check the answers that best apply (checkboxes)” and multiple choice where they could choose the option that they felt best applied to the person whose work they were reading.






Most of my classes were able to evaluate one draft though my 8th grade classes were able to do two “lightning” rounds of feedback.   The Google Form was a terrific medium because many of my students struggle with the physical act of handwriting—not only did the Google Form allow students a chance to type without getting bogged down by handwriting difficulties, but it also ensured that everyone gets a nice typed, readable feedback form in class tomorrow.    I simply created a Word document with the main headings that feedback form would need, downloaded the Google Form responses to Excel, and then ran a mail merge to create clean, complete, and printed feedback forms the students will receive in class tomorrow—this evaluation form will give students a jumping off plan to think about revision and eventually sketch out their Revision Plan (also to be completed in Google Forms).

A few observations:

  • Many students were surprised by the power of reading a draft aloud—it helped quite a few realize their drafts were not quite as polished as they originally thought and to think about the rhythm and flow of the personal narrative.
  • This experience was new for nearly every student—and I definitely see the importance of having this read aloud sharing time.  Since we’ll be starting Writing Circles after Labor Day, today was a good warm-up for the frequent sharing we will be doing.
  • I realized that my students will need scaffolding like the “multiple choice” and “checkbox” response options for a little while as we grow our ability to talk about our writing.   For now, I am OK with combining these kinds of responses with the open-ended feedback prompts as learn to walk and then run with these skills.
  • Some students really struggled to find a partner for various reasons.  In the future, I will use some of the partner selection strategies I just read about (they are for groups but can be modified for partners, too) in the Jim Vopat Writing Circles book.
  • My classes only meet for roughly 40 minutes daily because my class is an academic elective in the “connections” rotation, so anything I can do to help expedite transitions is a must for us to maximize our time, especially for my classes who take a little longer than others to complete activities.

IMG_8670It was a hectic day, but I am happy that we did this activity.  I’m excited for us to complete this piece of writing this week and move forward with Writing Circles after Labor Day!  How are you approaching writing partners/buddies, and what techniques or tools do you use to help students give each other meaningful and constructive feedback on their writing?  I would love to hear what others are doing.

SOARING Into Art History and Artists with Inquiry

Art History and Artists-1Twice a year, our school offers students the opportunity to participate in a pathfinder academy known as SOAR.  Students can choose “courses” in one of the three pathways:  STEM, Health and Wellness, or Arts and Culture; they can also earn a certificate in one of these pathways.  You can learn more about our pathway academies program here.

Teachers volunteer to sponsor or “teach” a SOAR class; in addition, our amazing coordinator Janelle Bowker polls students for topics they’d like to see added the SOAR menu.  Students get to vote on their top choices, and Ms. Bowker works diligently to place students in one of their top picks.  Because many students indicated an interest in art history and artist, I decided to take on that topic even though I know very little about it.  Because our courses are designed to be inquiry driven, it is not necessary for you the teacher to be an expert; I think not knowing a lot about a particular topic allows more space for students to step up as the experts and to position teachers and student as co-learners.   My interest in taking on this topic comes from my work with Dorsey Sammataro and her art students last year, so I am hopeful this SOAR course will be fun for all of us!

We just began our first meeting this past Friday, August 26; we will meet twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays this semester) until November 17 when we have our culminating Day at the Museum where students showcase their products/learning artifacts.   My game plan is to incorporate the elements of students designing their own inquiry projects using the principles and learning structures I learned at the wonderful inquiry workshop in Santa Fe I attended this past January (you can learn more all about that experience here).   Students will have opportunities to read an assortment of texts (traditional and multimedia) to build some background knowledge before we begin brainstorming topics, forming birds of feather groups, and then helping students draft their own inquiry project plans.  I am excited to see where the kids go with their work and the kinds of learning products they choose to create.

We kicked off the first day by asking students to individually share what they knew about art, artists, and art history on index cards.  I then had students form groups by counting off students in groups of four where they introduced themselves and shared their thinking.  Groups then created a T-chart of “what we know” and “what we want to know” to get a preliminary list of questions or ideas out there though we certainly will grow those questions/wonderings.

IMG_8593Not only did this activity spark some thinking, but it gave me an opportunity to see how students work in groups since many don’t have much experience at this age.    Though some students were very conformable doing this simple activity with others, I could see that some students were definitely struggling and needed some support.  Based on what I observed, I will definitely incorporate some of the community building activities and scaffold social skill interactions using strategies from Harvey Daniels, Nancy Steineke, and Sara Ahmed.

Once students finished their charts, we did a group share out—not only was this a great opportunity for the groups to hear from each other, but it was a teachable moment about respectful listening and the power of community thinking.  Here is what my students devised in roughly 25 minutes:




IMG_8601 IMG_8602

As you can see from the work, some students were more comfortable than others in working together with others, but I am appreciative that nearly every student made the effort to participate, especially since students are in mixed grade levels (6, 7, and 8) and were for the most part with students they didn’t know—those are big steps for middle schoolers.  The charts also reveal that quite a few students may have thought our course was about how to make art (even though the course description was very clear about our focus); though it is not, they can certainly develop as a mini-inquiry project to piggyback on the larger themes of art and artists.

I’m excited to see how our inquiry work unfolds and develops!  Stay tuned as I will post updates and share our journey of learning with you.

Exploring Writing Territories with a Gallery Walk

IMG_8393.JPGAs of August 1, I have returned to the classroom and stepped into the role of Title I Writing Support teacher at Chestatee Academy in the Hall County school district.    This is a new position with all new classes—I am part of the Connections group, and students taking writing classes with me as an academic elective.  I teach six sections of students in grades 6-8 daily; though the nuances of the courses are a little different from one grade to another, all the courses take an inquiry stance on literacy.  I am using a writer’s workshop approach that infuses inquiry with all my students; because the courses are all new, I am building all the content and curriculum map from ground zero.  Thought it feels a little overwhelming at times, I am mostly excited and elated to have this opportunity to be engaged in writing literacies and inquiry with kids daily plus I get to innovate with tried strategies I’ve used previously while implementing new ones I’ve been studying over the summer!

One of our first tasks this week with our writer’s notebooks has been to explore our territories for writing.  I borrowed the idea and resources from Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski at the Two Writing Teachers blog, a wonderful resource for anyone who teaches writing.  Like Sokolowski, I have used Georgia Heard’s wonderful Heart Mapping activity for identifying an initial list of topics for writing, but the territories concept seemed to mesh with my “writing studio” framework I’m adopting and fleshing out over the next 180 days.  We first started with the graphic organizer created by Sokolowski (it is available in her original blog post) because I wanted something accessible for my learners.  We initially began working on these territories on Tuesday of this week; students were given additional time to work on these at home and in class on Wednesday and the beginning of class Thursday.   While some students could easily identify ideas in each territory category,  quite a few struggled, so I thought it might be helpful for them to see what their peers were thinking.  Enter the Gallery Walk!

Yesterday (Thursday), I gave them a few minutes to tweak or add their initial list of writing territories.  I then gave each student four Post-it notes and a Sharpie; I asked them to look at their list and pick the four territories that were most meaningful.  The only restriction was that I wanted them to pick from four unique categories out of the possible.  Once they wrote each territory idea on a Post-it note (one idea per Post-it), they then got up and placed their Post-its on the appropriate placeholder that I created with oversized Post-it chart paper and icons from the Noun Project.    I also modeled for the students how to list the territory idea on a Post-it and place it on the “parking lot” for that idea.

August 11 2016 Agendas (1)

Once students had about 5 minutes to complete this task, they  returned the Sharpies to the Sharpie tub and then picked up an index card from me.  Once everyone had finished “posting” their territories, students were then given a few more minutes to walk about again and read the territory ideas that had been shared.  As they walked about, I asked students to think about the one that struck them in some way as clever, original, interesting, or surprising.


Gallery Walk

Students then wrote 1-2 sentences to share their reflections; again, I provided some models to assist them in formulating their sentences.     We did a running collection over three periods in the first half of my instructional day and then the second half (post-lunch for me) of my instructional day, so they got to see ideas across multiple classes and grades.  They also had the option of revisiting their territories and adding ideas if they were inspired by something a fellow student had shared.










Overall, most students indicated they found this to be a positive learning experience.  I liked that we incorporated sharing into our activity in a way that was non-threatening (they were not asked to put their names on their Post-its–this choice was completely optional).  This learning opportunity also gave us a chance to do a Gallery Walk for the first time in a low-stakes kind of setting since this activity is new for many of my students.  These are also the first of our baby steps to growing our academic and social capital as we grow as a community of learners.

One observation I’d like to share is that the territories of special people, favorite places, dreams/hopes, hobbies/interests, and worries/fears had the most responses.  In contrast, there were very few shares of “Wonderings” or “Issues That I Care About.”  I know from watching them work and the questions I received that most students didn’t seem to have much of an awareness of current events or “big topics”, so I’m excited that inquiry mini-studies will be a regular part of our classroom life.  I did see a lot of interesting wonderings on their graphic organizers, but I’m intrigued that few felt comfortable sharing those though it makes sense, especially for this age group, that the more personal topics relevant to their daily lives would be more important or share-worthy for this activity.

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My classes meet for 40 minutes; we needed roughly 25 minutes to complete this task.  If you have students who are experienced with a gallery walk, writer’s workshop, or accelerated learners, you might be able to complete it a little more quickly.

Overall, I am glad we did these learning activities and look forward to revisiting our territories throughout the year!   I will continue to share our work in writer’s workshop and inquiry projects as we move forward into this 2016-17 academic year.  Many thanks to those who expressed interest in these activities on Twitter!