Sunday, December 22, 2013

Favorite comments of '13, cont: Catherine, Anonymouses, Kathy Howard, and Deirdre Mundy

On Peer conferences and peer editing: more outlets for classroom bullying

Catherine said...

A few years ago, I came across a book of pre-written letters to parents intended for use by school principals. Now I'm wondering whether a companion volume for teachers exists. Or a pdf file that gets forwarded throughout the ranks of school personnel.

Much of the prose in these two teachers' messages strikes me as pre-written. Although the messages are directed to a particular mother and concern a particular child, the writing is cold and impersonal: change the names and the sex of the pronouns and these emails could be sent to any parent of any child.
These teachers are reading from a script.

The concluding prose-chunk is especially striking. I would bet a modest sum of money that it has reached the Inboxes of multiple parents:

"Thank you for your message. I appreciate your perspective and will continue to support [INSERT CHILD'S NAME HERE] as a writer in ways that both support [HIS/HER] academic and social growth."

Anonymous said...
I agree, the teacher's writing is boilerplate, but the language is also designed to intimidate parents.

First comes the insinuations that something is wrong with the child involved, from the teacher who was not in the classroom at the time; "Thomas... was less sensitive than he could have been." He was "very insistent". He "needs to make room for other opinions".

Then the defense; Peer editing is "widely used and effective". Is "based on the understanding that kids learn best through application of skills and collaboration".

Then the language is, ultimately, dismissive; "I will continue to support Thomas as a writer in ways that support both his academic and social growth".

This was clearly written by administration with the intent to tell parents that they don't know anything, are not entitled to an opinion about what goes on in the classroom, and are not allowed to question school authority. The final bit basically says that the teacher intends to continue with this and has no obligation to learn or change. Welcome to modern education.

Anonymous said...
Peer editing could also play a role in expository writing if kids helped each other do research or get the appropriate information in the text. But peer editing for personal writing is something else. I would feel really awkward sharing a diary or personal composition with a random peer at work and I assume that most students feel the same about sharing personal information at school. Maybe teachers should be required to participate and divulge personal information to be edited publicly by students!

Anonymous said...
When one of my kids brought home pieces of writing that had been peer edited, the peer editor had struck out correct phrases/punctuations and replaced them with incorrect ones.

Kathy Howard said...
I totally agree with the caution that this case raises. However, I would also just point out what many- even experienced- teachers fail to understand: The most important benefit of peer review is for the reviewer- not the writer. In other words, reading others' work and applying a set of evaluative criteria to it helps learners to become better re-readers of their own writing. It is not primarily about GETTING feedback from another student, it is more about learning about writing by GIVING feedback. If teachers conveyed that more explicitly to students, the students might understand that they can't expect their peer to make the revisions they are suggesting. We should be sensitive to students who struggle with social relationships with their peers, like Thomas, and perhaps provide other means of getting this experience. However, the teachers seem to believe that this experience is primarily about learning to be social, and about getting feedback on one's writing.

Anonymous said...
What rot. ES, MS and most HS kids don't write well enough to make constructive comments and don't know enough grammar to explain anything. There's too much story-writing and not enough expository work, so getting peers involved is trampling kids' feelings.

Save it for college - and MAYBE AP English, if the kids are already good writers. Otherwise, it's a waste of time, in addition to causing or exacerbating social problems.

Despite two grad schools, I've only seen the peer-critique once; in my freshman honors English Lit and Comp. We read a play a week (Ancient Greek to modern)and the instructor circulated a list of topics for each one, which we turned 2-3 SS typed page essays on dittos (1 student per topic), presented them to the class for content/style/grammar comment and turned in the revised version for a grade. It was an excellent way to cover a huge amount of material in a short time (most sections read only 3-4 plays from the listed choices; we read all) - IIRC we wrote a paper at least every 10d. However, it only worked because the class had the top 25 students -based on first-semester work (eval by faculty committee) from a freshman class of 1500 and we were willing to do the work.

Deirdre Mundy said...
We did peer editing in High School as part of our writing workshop courses. It was actually a great way to learn to write well, to self-edit, and to edit others.

BUT.... we were all 9th grade and up honors kids, and the teacher collected the edited papers and graded the editor on how well she edited. So you had a good reason to do your best, make sure you were correct, and to avoid bullying. If you edited someone else badly, YOU lost points....

No comments: