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The Writing Workshop and Harkness - Part 1

So, let's get real for a moment around peer-revision and peer-editing: 1. It's a chore, but you feel like you have to do it because, hey, don't all good English teachers do it? 2. You're never really sure if the students are going to notice what you want them to notice, and 3. You either steal someone checklist (I get it. All good teachers know the art of stealing), or you spend what feels like forever creating your own and tweaking it in the hopes of finally getting peer-revision and peer-editing perfect, only to collapse at your desk reflecting on how it went so wrong. But, what if we allow our students the opportunity to be in charge of this process both individually and collectively? And, how might I ensure my students are personally investing not only in their writing but also in the writing of their peers?

...how might I ensure my students are personally investing not only in their writing but also in the writing of their peers?

I began to ponder this question as I worked consistently and steadily to build my English classroom around student-led discussion using the Harkness Discussion Method. So, I set off in search of solid texts on writing about writing to incorporate into our daily discussions.  I settled on two excerpts from Alice LaPlante's The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing. One was on beginning their piece; the other, details.

Source: Flickr.com

Source: Flickr.com

Here was my structure for this series of lessons. Now, remember: almost every day in my class is a discussion day (45-50 minute classes).  My students are comfortable with this format of instruction.

  • Pre-Day 1: Read LaPlante excerpt #1
  • Day 1 Discussion: Discuss LaPlante excerpt, focusing on how we might adjust our beginnings (I call this "expanding up", but that's for another blog post.)
    • HW: Revise creative nonfiction piece for beginning; Mrs. Lucas will select three to be workshopped in class the next day.
  • Pre-Day 2: Based on the previous day's discussion, read and annotate the three student selections. Question for consideration: Keeping in mind our reading, what do you notice? (NOTE: It would be helpful to provide your students a guide like THIS.)
  • Day 2 Discussion: Three teacher-selected pieces (NOTE: We spend about 12-15 minutes on each piece.)
  • Pre-Day 3: Read LaPlant excerpt #2
  • Day 3 Discussion: Discuss LaPlante excerpt, focusing on how we might add sensory details and notice the use of metaphor
    • HW: Revise creative nonfiction piece for details and use of metaphor; Mrs. Lucas will select three (NOTE: These are three different pieces than the students have previously viewed.)
  • Day 4 Discussion: Three teacher-selected pieces
  • Writing Workshop Reflection: Based on your writing and the writing of your peers, what do you need to revise in your paper? Why? (NOTE: This is a brief reflection of several sentences.  My intention is solely for my students to reflect upon what they need to adjust.

That's it! By the end of the cycle, my students have seen six very different pieces of student writing, noticed both what they appreciated and would like to include in their writing and what should be revised. The six students whose pieces I selected, all for very different reasons, received constructive comments, positive feedback, and peer-annotated copies of their writing with which they could use to revise.

In Part 2, I'll address questions about this process: those that arose in my reflective learning cycle and yours. So, bring them on in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

Amanda LucasComment
Intentional Colloquy: The Access Point

I'm lucky enough to teach at a school where the individual works together for the betterment of the community, where political affiliation was set aside to create a safe space after the election fall-out for student voice, and where student opinion is not only valued but also encouraged. So, when students requested several years ago at mid-semester evaluations that I include more time for seminar discussion, I listened.

“...where political affiliation was set aside to create a safe space after the election fall-out for student voice, and where student opinion was not only valued but also encouraged.”

Over the winter break of the 14-15 school year, I set out to explore, and for that matter re-explore, student-led discussion strategies that would empower students to take ownership in the discussion of text. I had dabbled in several methods but never found the one that quite fit my teaching and organizational style. It was only a chance conversation via Twitter with a local upper school principal that I discovered the Harkness Method.

Two years later, I have fully integrated student-led discussion into my curriculum where 75% of class days are discussion and the remaining 25% are used for writing workshops and conferences. Students now enter my class with stories of how conversation about the text is taking place during study halls. They are challenging their peers respectfully and civilly and exploring the nuances of the text without me. For some teachers, this may be daunting. I, on the other hand, am elated.

I have defined Intentional Colloquy as an intellectual space for empowering discourse in the things that matter in English education. But, Intentional Colloquy is so much more than that, and it is not just for English educators. It is high-level discussion. It is relational. It is the tipping point on a journey to the heart of the matter, and I invite you to join me.