I am always searching for low-risk ways to build community in my classroom during the first weeks of school. In order to build norms of sharing our writing, responding to one another’s writing, and writing a whole lot in general, I like to combine some low-stakes activities like imitation writing and positive feedback protocols so students become confident members of a community of real writers.
Objectives — Create your own version of Langston Hughes’ “I, Too, Sing America,” Critique your peers’ poems positively.
Lesson — I recently read Nancy P. Gallavan’s article “I, Too, Am an American: Preservice Teachers Reflect Upon National Identity” with my students. The article includes a sample of students’ imitation poems of Hughes’ classic poem, which they wrote in the weeks after 9/11. The poems sought to make students aware of the stereotypes each one faced, and to defy those stereotypes.
I asked students to read the article before coming to class, to write their own version of the poem, and to bring a copy to class because we’d be sharing it.
(It’s important to disclose to students before they write that a poem will be shared in order to build the norm of openness with their peers.)
With a pile of post-its waiting on each desk, I asked students to take out their poems.
“We’re going to share our writing today, and we’re going to practice giving each other positive, specific feedback. To begin, pass your poem to the left, and then grab a post-it note.
“The feedback we’re going to give today is part of the Bless, Press, Address protocol by the NWP. Blessing the writing means to give specific feedback on what you like about the poem. Pressing the writer means pushing him or her to strengthen their piece in some way. Addressing an issue the writer asks you for help on means giving responsive feedback in order to help the writer achieve his or her goals. Today we’re just going to bless one another, since it’s the first time we’re sharing our writing.”
(I think it’s important to begin with positive feedback because it removes the stigma of “peer editing,” which is often vague or negative if not structured properly.)
“So, take a post-it and write a response to a line, or give a compliment about word choice, or discuss something you agree with. When you finish, pass your poem on to give your neighbor a subtle nudge to keep things moving.”
The room hums with rustling paper and murmured conversation, and I have the students pass the poem five times.
Follow-Up — After giving feedback, students receive their original poems back and read their peers’ comments. I ask them how it felt to receive this type of feedback, how this activity helps build community, and what other assignments they could use this feedback protocol with. Their responses to the last question were so creative–DBQs, lab reports, narratives, essays, published works of literature, math activities, thesis statements, and more.
After our discussion, I ask the students to put their poems and post-its into their notebooks to remain a permanent artifact of their peer feedback.
How will you use the Bless, Press, Address protocol with your students? Please share in the comments?