In room 235D, we have been immersed in our dystopian book clubs. These past two weeks kids have been quietly reading, and loving, their self-chosen texts, using strategies that they have been taught previously, as well as the ones introduced each day, to gain a deeper understanding of the text. Navigating these books as they try to figure out how they will discuss what they have uncovered, how they will prepare for their own student-led discussions. Every day, these kids and their thoughts are reaching new heights. Each day, we get to sit and listen to them discuss without dictated questions, without packets, without us constantly holding their hand. It is a brilliant thing to see.
While we have loved seeing the growth in student discussions every year, we wanted to give students another chance to learn from each other and to also be exposed to great conversations. Enter my brilliant colleague, Reidun, who came up with the following idea and template. Introducing the partner feedback groups.
The idea is simple: Students are matched up with a partner group. Every time the group discusses, the partner group gives feedback to them using the following form.
We introduced this tool individually with each discussion group rather than as a group fishbowl. This was for time’s sake and also helped everyone ask questions and ward off confusion. While all kids give feedback, not all groups are matched, only because some groups have expressed anxiety over the extra audience and we wanted to respect that. we are hoping that in the spring when we do our next round of book groups, all groups will be ready to be matched.
Each child is assigned the same person to follow and they take turns coaching each other. They are not evaluating, but merely paying attention to what is actually happening in the conversation. It works quite easily. Let’s say Sam is evaluating Marcus. Every time Marcus adds to the conversation, depending on what is said, she gives him a tally mark. So if Markus brings up a new idea to discuss – i.e. the main character fits the villain archetype – she would put a tally in the “Brought up a new idea” box. She could also write “Villain archetype” under specific example. She categorizes everything Markus says in order to give him feedback at the end.
Once the discussion is over, they usually last between 10 and 15 minutes, I ask the discussion group, “What went well?” After they reflect on this, then I ask them, “What do you need to work on? ” They reflect on that and then it is their partner’s turn to give them feedback. In our example of Sam and Marcus, she may let him know that while he did well in bringing up new ideas and also responding to other people, he didn’t use a lot of text evidence to back up his thinking. This is then something he can work on for the following discussion. After each feedback partner has gone, they are dismissed so that I can speak privately with their group about their actual evaluation.
What we have noticed since implementing this last week is the keen observational skills of our students. They notice things that we miss and also have been providing spot-on coaching tips. Just today a student stated how impressed she was with the growth of the member since the last discussion and all of the things she noticed they had worked on. This tool is offering our students a way to give each other feedback that is constructive and without judgment. They are merely stating their observations, not offering up a grade.
In the long run, we hope this help students become better givers of valid and productive feedback. For many years we have been stuck in a rut when it comes to kids helping each other grow more pointedly. They often say that things are great when really they need work or simply don’t know what to say. This little tool has helped them focus on what the tangible skills are and how they can be improved while also providing them with models of effective discussions. An added bonus has been the excitement over each other’s books as well, and how some kids now want to read the books that other groups are reading.
So there you have, a small idea, shared by a great friend and colleague that has been making a difference in our book club discussions. To see what else w do to make our book clubs better, go here.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.