Writing Workshops: Using Small Groups to Improve Writing
Most teachers will tell you that one of the most difficult skills to teach is effective writing. Likewise, students will often tell you that writing is what they find the most painstaking. One of the reasons why teaching composition has proven so challenging is that each student is unique in style and ability. In order to address this, many teachers turn to individual conferencing, which while effective, can be an extremely slow process.
Here's why small group conferencing can be an attractive alternative:
1. Time - While conferencing with students individually, I realized that I was often addressing the same issues again and again. With the scarcity of time that we have in the classroom already, why not group students who struggle with like issues and conference with them at once?
2. Peer Evaluations - Something that I regularly have my students do is peer edit. While this is an effective strategy, they need a model for how to evaluate each other. I began to realize that my students have started to become more adept at editing when given time to do so during small group conferencing. Students observe the types of corrections that I make, not necessarily for themselves, but also so that they can make comments about the works of their peers. Of course, if they can effectively evaluate the essays of each other, they're more than likely able to do so for their own.
3. Critical Thinking - If possible, try to group students who share different opinions. When working on persuasive writing, I've found that dissenting students are great motivators when it comes to considering how to defend and argument! Additionally, students can bounce ideas off of each other and are active in generating ideas.
4. Student Engagement - One of the toughest challenges in our classrooms today has been the cultivation of passive learners. In a large group setting, most students are content to sit and wait for somebody else to participate. Conferencing in small groups gives you an opportunity to engage students by raising the degree of accountability for participation. While it's true that you could do this with an individual conference, being in a small group can make the activity much less intimidating for a struggling student or an English Language Learner.
The writing process can be a complex and difficult one. There's no doubt that it has always been a challenging task for students. Hopefully, as we strive to become more effective educators, we can use innovative and effective techniques that will help our students to achieve success!
What strategies have you found the most effective?
Rosemead High School
El Monte Union High School District