“What is more challenging for you—giving feedback or receiving feedback? Why do you think that is?”
I project this question on the board when students walk into our peer writing workshop. Along with helping them enter into the activity, it reveals the purpose driving our work: to become stronger at providing and receiving feedback—skills that translate beyond the classroom.
Peer workshops are some of the best days in our classroom. Below, I share practices I’ve found effective when facilitating these interactions in the writing classroom, transferable across units and contexts.
There are many approaches to peer feedback, but over the years I’ve found two priorities key in the planning stage:
- Being intentional about the piece of writing students share. Less is more. Setting constraints for shorter pieces saves time on feedback day. And having the first peer workshop take place with creative or narrative writing allows students to get to know each other, as opposed to analytical or more standardized prompts.
- Establishing classroom values around growth and generosity. We introduce and reflect upon classroom core beliefs at the start of the year, centering these values. We circle back to them frequently; very intentionally, our classroom environment becomes a collaborative one—a critical precursor to peer workshops.
I also give students time in class to plan and write pieces they will workshop. Giving them time helps them feel confident and prepared and allows them to get support in person if needed.
No matter how prepared students feel, they will likely also feel some anxiety on workshop day—a natural part of sharing work with others.
I begin by having students go through these four norms as a class, selecting one they want to prioritize and sharing their selection with their group members:
- Generosity: Assuming 100 percent in your peers and giving 100 percent as a result in terms of investment and feedback.
- Curiosity: Entering into the space with a willingness to learn from the writing and feedback of those around you.
- Growth: Prioritizing how you can grow, not only in your own writing but also in receiving and providing feedback.
- Perspective: Valuing and engaging with how your own way of seeing things may be different than others’.
By talking through these norms and sharing priorities, students feel a sense of ownership and intentionality entering into workshopping—and practice important real-life self-advocacy skills.
As we begin the workshop, I have students attach a template to their draft for peers to fill out, by hand or digitally, thereby structuring feedback. Our template is built around Marisa Thompson’s close-reading TQE method, with students recording thoughts and questions as they read, noting the most important line and describing why, then noting an epiphany or major takeaway.
Next, students write their own “driving question” at the top of the feedback template—what do they want those reading their piece to focus on, or what are they most curious about regarding others’ perspectives? Naming the focus area you’d most like feedback on is another element of self-advocacy.
Finally, students share digital drafts, asking reviewers to make copies so that writers can’t see the feedback process as it unfolds and are able to stay present with the draft they’re reviewing.
I require the classroom to be 100 percent silent during the feedback stage. Students are typically in trios, which means they have two peer writing samples to review. We split the silent feedback time in half, and I tell them when to switch to the next draft. I ask them to hold clarifying questions and commentary to stay true to our norm of being 100 percent invested in the feedback being provided.
For shorter texts (e.g., 200-to-300-word flash fiction), they get approximately 10 minutes per piece for reading and feedback, doing their best to complete the template. This becomes a really cool space too, as you can almost feel students drifting away from initial anxieties while losing themselves in the reading of each other’s work and the offering of intentional, constructive feedback.
When it comes time to share feedback, I ask students to listen to feedback aloud without opening up their own text that is now filled with written feedback. Instead, they listen silently as both of their partners explain their noticings and wonderings first—a process designed to prioritize listening and being a willing recipient of feedback.
A few tips I’ve acquired over the years make this a smoother process:
- Outline the process and project instructions early on. For example, “Partner A will receive feedback from Partner B and Partner C, and then….” Once students dive in, it’s hard to slow them down!
- Have feedback recipients take notes. This gives them a place to prepare follow-up questions and clarifications while actively listening to feedback—another “beyond the classroom” skill.
- Allow groups to move at their own pace. I used to have minute-by-minute plans, but I’ve realized it’s much better to give each group space to move on only when they’re ready. To accommodate this, I have an independent reflection activity ready for them—that way, space is there for some groups to take longer than others.
After feedback exchanges, we return to our norms, asking students to reflect on how they lived up to their intentions and what it was like to give and receive feedback—making this a dual-learning experience.
To me, the true value of this activity is what it does for the learning community. If a classroom relies only on the eyes of a single teacher to provide feedback and support for everyone within it, that really limits where the community can go as writers.
When we lean into peer feedback and collaborative learning as a purposeful foundation of the classroom, we create an entirely different ceiling as far as what students can achieve—and, in the process, equip students with feedback and reflection skills that go far beyond any specific writing skill.