peer teachers

if you’re anything like us, you’d be totally ok with cloning yourself in the name of more frequent conferences with students. indeed, regular conferring – keeping a pulse on what the readers and writers are doing in our classroom (no, seriously, what the heck are they doing?!) – is, in our opinion, one of the greatest challenges for the workshop teacher.

enter student teachers. as in, the students in your class become the teachers.

so much of our thinking about how to teach kids to interact with one another in a respectful, engaging, and rigorous way has come from our time with shana frazin at the teachers college reading and writing project (tcrwp). if you ever have the chance to work with her, do. it.

along the same lines of giving peer feedback, teaching students to teach one another is something that takes time, and because it’s not in the curriculum per say (but! it is related to anchor standards W5 & SL1), it may feel hard to find or justify the time spent on this. and, it does take a little bit of time to set it up. but we promise that the energy and life it breathes into your workshop will be worth it. that, and you’ll essentially have 24 of yourself walking around, dying to confer.

first, timing. we suggest rolling this out in writing workshop after a few units, preferably at least after two units in separate genres of writing (i.e. narrative, informational, and opinion), so that students have some work and learning on which to stand and pull from while coaching one another. it will also go more smoothly if most of your students are proficient at giving feedback.

a second thing to consider is having writers make a list of help wanted (i.e. writing moves that they need additional support or practice with) and help offered (i.e. writing moves they feel secure in and could help others with) in their notebooks, perhaps for homework a few nights before this lesson takes place. have students choose one thing off of each list that they want to post on the class help offered/help wanted wall. in our classroom, we used a closet door to make two columns- one for help wanted & one for help offered- and this was a place where students could to search for someone to help them or someone they could help.

we’ve found success in introducing this during a whole class inquiry mini-lesson. reveal a chart that has things a teacher might say when teaching by demonstration or by explain and example. quickly model or show a video of teaching  by demonstration, asking partners to jot things in their notebook that they hear you  say (this is supported by what’s already on the chart) and things you do. consider breaking this responsibility up by asking partner A to investigate one thing and partner B to investigate the other. have them turn and talk so they can share and add to their lists and then quickly share out what they noticed as a class. repeat the same process with showing how they might teach by explain and example. it will be even more powerful for students if you teach the same thing twice, using different teaching methods.

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once this lesson has been taught, students can use the help offered & help wanted wall to seek or offer a conference to a peer. we coach them in their first peer conferences, guiding them to first make a decision about how they’ll teach and to use the chart (maybe even a digital copy of it next to them on an iPad) to help them rember things they might say as they teach.

creating time and giving reminders about this work as an option for part of their independent writing time in the few weeks after it’s taught will help get it up and running. and, suddenly, there are not just one or two teachers in the room, but 24.

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