Tag Archives: peer response groups

Where Beyond Letter Grades Meets a SEACCR

Photo: Peter Elbow Speaking at Baruch College

Peter Elbow Speaking at Baruch College – cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by BLSCI

Participating in a few MOOCs, as usual, this fall has proven a fascinating learning experience, but has also prompted an unexpected convergence.

I started work with an awesome group of Alaskan educators in Professor Lee Graham‘s’s SEACCR MOOC a couple of months ago. As part of this effort, I began an action research project, still underway in fact. I hadn’t completely reconciled the abbreviated length of the course before diving into the mix. Of course, this hasn’t been a real problem. It is a MOOC after all, meaning I can participate at whatever level I like.

My research question involved peer response groups. Unfortunately, I have not had enough opportunities to collect data from students just yet, because while I use peer response groups, they are not daily activity. Instead I tend to make use of them for longer, more formal writing tasks. I just haven’t had the volume of tasks that would afford completing the data collection phase. Thus, my research will end up taking longer than originally had considered.

Still, when surveying which badges I still had to complete for the Beyond Letter Grades MOOC, I found peer assessment another timely available badge. So while I continue to collect data for my SEACCR action research question (How does the use of use of Google Docs impact peer response groups and change or shape the writing process?), I have definitely been making use of peer assessment in my classes for a number of years.

Peer Feedback & Workshopping Student Writing

Most often, I employ a simple protocol that I have been using with students to get them engaging in peer feedback. It is a method that I picked up during my Invitational Summer Institute experience with the Boston Writing Project. While there are a  number of sources for peer feedback practices, I believe the roots of this particular method trace back to Peter Elbow, in particular Writing Without Teachers, although I am fairly certain it has been simplified and modified over time.

Here is the application of the protocol I have developed for my high school English students.

Peer Response Group Guidelines


Each group should have a timekeeper to ensure that every group member has an equal amount of time devoted to the response to their writing.


Each group member should have a copy of your writing. Read your piece aloud to the group. Remain silent until someone responds. Resist the impulse to defend, apologize, explain, clarify, or amplify immediately after reading. However, once the first group member has responded, the writer should become part of the dialogue about the piece, and may even wish to direct comments to certain areas or questions.

Usually there is silence immediately after the reader finishes. Sometimes it is long, sometimes it is short. This is normal. Group members need time to look back over the piece, make notes, put their thoughts in order, and find the right words to begin talking about the piece.


Responders should begin by commenting on what they feel was the strongest or most positive aspect of the piece. Be positive and specific. This may include comments on particularly striking or effective words, image, constructions, etcetera, or on wider aspects, such as organization, tone, humor. Pick an aspect of the piece that was effective for you as a listener or reader, and describe its effect. What did you hear and see in the piece? How did it make you feel?

After the group has commented on the most positive aspect of the piece, responders should move to the second step, which is to point out or ask about any part that you found confusing for any reason. Is there something the writer assumed you knew that you did not know? Are there areas which are awkward, repetitious, out of place, or unclear?

Next the group should move to giving the writer suggestions on where the piece might go next, possibly around questions such as: Is it in nearly final form? Should it be continued? If so what would you like to hear more about? Are there really two or three subjects vying for attention, and should the piece be split into two or three separate pieces? What direction should rewriting take? How should the writer go about expanding the piece? How does the writer feel about the piece? Is there some specific part of the writing that the writer would like feedback or a specific answer to a question?

Finally, the group members may point out any grammatical, usage, or spelling corrections that should be made. This step should always be last, if used at all. The writer may also want to ask the group for help in some specific area of grammar or usage that proved difficult in the paper.


1. Find the Good, Most Successful – Identify and Celebrate
2. Identify Questions – Factual or Interpretive
3. Make Suggestions – Contribute to Someone’s Learning
4. (Not Required) Highlight Obvious Errors – Grammar, Usage, and Spelling

In Face-to-Face Learning Contexts

I use these guidelines as an introductory framework for peer feedback in nearly every writing course I teach. With ninth grade English students, it typically requires a bit more coaching and practice but they can do it and do it well.

As an introduction to the concept, in my face-to-face courses, I will model the process with them as a whole class, sharing a piece I have written, often one that provides an example of their current assignment. I will then facilitate the guidelines with the whole class, highlighting the most helpful feedback provided by students. Once students are in groups and engaged in the process, I drop in and and out of each group to coach them in using the protocol as needed. It usually take a few separate reps before the better results can be seen. Using peer feedback groups is an evolutionary process for them.

In Online Learning Contexts

Similarly, I have used this method extensively in a completely online screenwriting course that heavily uses of threaded discussion forums. A common practice in online courses is the asking students to craft an original post and respond to at least two other classmates. Again, I model the process with online students most explicitly responding to each student individually in the early days of the course.

Gradually, I withdraw from such volume of responding, as the the peer to peer responses flourish in the discussion threads. Again this is an evolutionary process. It typically takes between four to six weeks for a whole class of students to grow into the ability to provide consistently substantive feedback to one another.

Closing Thoughts

While I might modify this process with more explicit directions or questions inspired by a particular writing task, I always begin with the process and guidelines above. It has become a staple practice in my classroom practice for a number of years now. I have been adapting it for a variety of learning contexts, and most recently investigating the impact of digital applications, but more of that is to come.

Preparing for #SEACCR Data Collection – Week 5 Reflections

Photo: research

research – cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Dayna Bateman

Despite feeling a bit off the pace of my Alaskan colleagues in #SEACCR, I am persevering and pressing on with my action research  project. One thing that I have found is that my teaching schedule and planning has not exactly matched up with the timeline established for the course. Some of this is a function of jumping into the mix without a complete sense of the timeline at the start, and some of it is merely a consequence of how I have plotted out the ninth grade sections that I am observing for the project.  Unfortunately, it is not looking like these two time streams are going to align any time soon.

One thing that has absolutely crystalized for me, especially since I engaged in a much lengthier action research project last year, is my fascination with reading the research on a subject. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of any research project. I love the searching, digging, reading, discovering. I tend to collect reams of related articles and books. In fact, for my project last year I had material shipped in from Australia, fascinating stuff at that.

As a result of all of this, I always find myself feeling I have so much more to read and learn. One week’s time never felt like it would be enough. I couldn’t read enough, fast enough. Plus, I spent a good chunk writing up a literature review, which I may post in future when I have finished the project.

Nevertheless, I am still in more of a planning stage for my data collection now, rather than actually collecting it. Since my interest is in peer response groups and Google Docs, I actually have to provide some opportunities for the students to participate. It is not something we do daily, but something we will be doing with greater frequency in future. Unfortunately, with this week being a shortened one, it may take even longer to begin data collection than I had imagined. Still, the class is moving from a more reading-focus to a more writing focus now. So there will be more opportunities, perhaps just not synchronized with the class timeline.

All of this is leaving me feeling a little disconnected from the group. However, I received some great feedback this week from @ak_teacher, Lenore Swanson, who is doing some great work herself. I am also continuing to stay involved in at least one of the two weekly Twitter chats. As my work drags on I am hoping to be a bit more engaged in helping and providing feedback to others.

So, despite Professor Lee Graham‘s awesome support, I can’t stop that nagging feeling of being behind a group of pretty awesome fellow educators.

Image: Lee Graham Single Tweet

It all remains great fun. Plus, there is a definite feeling of community within the group.

Getting Serious as a #SEACCR – Week 3 Reflections

Photo: Reflections

Reflections – cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Dead Habits

Use these guiding questions as you consider how you contributed to the learning of others:

Sharing Resources & Ideas

I have not been the best sharer of curated sources for this course, thus far. However, I suspect that may change in the coming weeks. There are a few projects that I might be able to offer assistance by sharing some known resources. So I suspect that I may be adding tot he Diigo group. Apart from the articles included in my annotated bibliography, I don’t believe I shared a lot of other resources. I have had my hands full trying to pursue my own line of inquiry.

Image: #SEACCR Tweeted Times newspaper

#SEACCR Tweeted Times newspaper – aggregating course activity

Still, I have been trying to continue to model different ways of archiving a lot of the Twitter chatter associated with class.  I do think that more frequent Twitter updates of the SEACCR Tweeted Times newspaper that I created a couple of weeks ago, from the list I created, might be useful. It is a much cleaner way to read the latest activity from the course. Plus, assigns a ranking of top tweets, based in part on retweeting. I have now automated a tweet promoting the page of collected #SEACCR tweets to be published daily at 4:00 PM Alaskan Time. This should anticipate our weekly Twitter chats, which is an active period for fellow classmates. I may need to adjust the time. That is another item on which I need to solicit some feedback.

I am not sure how much use others will find the Tweeted Times paper, but it is more an experiment. I will try to solicit some more feedback in the next Twitter chat. I think not publishing regular updates very likely left it a forgotten resource by many. Plus, it may have been just a bit too much for anyone new to Twitter. However, by now most of the participants have been tweeting with much greater regularity.


It is pretty difficult to discern the impact I have made by participating in this course and community. I like to think that I am having some, but I am definitely removed from the Alaskan cohort, no matter how much I might try to stay connected.

In some ways, I have had to begin burrowing in my own head a bit more, as I suspect many other participants, trying to fashion a path that I will begin to take for my own inquiry. Narrowing and focusing a question, while investigating what is already out there in the research community is time consuming. Focusing on my own concerns necessarily cuts into the time for sharing, exchanging, and engaging with the community. Similarly, contributions from others become less visible and harder to track. Again, as everyone begins to emerge with a clearer vision of what they are pursuing and where they are headed, I imagine opportunities will arise where a greater impact can be made.

One area that I continue to try and make an impact is through commenting and encouraging colleagues by reading and responding to their blog posts. I have also been tweeting when I comment, in hopes of encouraging others to read and comment on those posts as well. I am not sure that it is working, but it also serves as a record of my own activity for myself, which has been useful. That is a tip I would encourage others to consider doing too.

It is really interesting and informative to read others’ blogposts. Of course there is the benefit of reading about their evolving project, which should reassure anyone that they are not alone. Yet, I find there is a lot to be gleaned from how individuals go about posting, including content, structure, and style. My observations make me think more about how I blog, something I have been giving a lot of thought for the last few months, as I have been making a concerted effort to post daily during the work week and at least once over the weekend.

Tracking Twitter Activity

Keeping with the tradition of using Storify to highlight contributions to the weekly Twitter chat, Here are a few tweets and exchanges that characterize some of my contributions and conversations from the week. Storify is proving to be a really useful tool, far more than I previously thought. It is perfect for collecting and curating Twitter activity in a narrative way, which is useful for an open course like this that leverages Twitter use by participants.

by  – Mon, Sep 30 2013 16:46:55

Tweets of a #SEACCR – Week 3

  1. Finally getting to read some fellow #SEACCR people’s reflections. @fadwa has solid list of differences in ELA standards…
  2. Interesting thoughts about #SEACCR action research question by @barbradonachy differentiationdiary.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/new…
  3. Here are examples of how I tweet the blogposts both to promote the work of others, as well as track my own activity. It is an easy practice that others might find worth doing, as well.
  4. BTW If anyone wants to be added to the #seaccr list I made twitter.com/akh003/lists/s… just let me know – don’t know if I missed anyone
  5. This was an effort to ensure that I have all the #SEACCRs listed in  Twitter list, which I also use to generate the SEACCR Tweeted Times newspaper. The list seems appreciated and having an impact.
  6. I am thinking my #seaccr question will give me excuse to finally get @hickstro Troy Hicks’ new book – been wanting to get it anyway
  7. @akh003 That’s great, thanks. Is #seaccr a teacher research project? That seems to be what I am getting from the tweets.
  8. @hickstro @akh003 It is – a nine week experience to help teachers conduct research in their classrooms! #seaccr
  9. @ak_leeg @akh003 Sounds great! Please let me know if I can be of help… I am always interested in teacher research. #seaccr
  10. @hickstro @akh003 #seaccr we’d love for you to come in at 4:30 AKDT on Tuesday or Thursday with us! A wonderful group of AK teachers others
  11. As it turns out, Troy Hicks’ new book may not impact my inquiry as much as I originally thought. However, mentioning him did prompt a response, which may result in his participating in one of our upcoming Twitter chats which would no doubt benefit everyone. Hicks is a great ambassador scholar.
  12. Wondering if I can find any #seaccr literature on using Google Docs with students that isn’t propaganda, plenty on reader response grps
  13. @akh003 #seaccr I wouldn’t focus on Google Docs…that won’t be the end all – it will be the way you use it – your teaching strategies & Mgmt
  14. @ak_leeg I hear you, but I am interested in how the built in digital collaboration of GDocs changes the writing process for students #seaccr
  15. @akh003 #seaccr ah – well I’ll do some looking and see if I can find…I’m sure there are articles and conf proceedings. Tried Google Scholar?
  16. @ak_leeg Will do. Just starting the #seaccr hunting and gathering
  17. @JNUrain @ak_leeg Not quite. More interested in the tool’s impact on reader response groups and the writing process. #seaccr
  18. @JNUrain @ak_leeg Wondering what the impact actually is? Does that live interactive ability record comments and such help or hinder? #seaccr
  19. Here is a longer exchange around my inquiry that helped clarify and lead to an instructional video from Dr. Lee Graham. That in turn helped me identify a number of potentially helpful sources to read.
  20. @RazorMath @BarbraDonachy @ak_teacher I’m gatherin you all know the mother of differentiation in Carol Ann Tomlinson #seaccr – met her once
  21. @akh003 @BarbraDonachy @ak_teacher #seaccr – I didn’t, but I actually haven’t looked into anything. thanks! You just gave me some good info
  22. THis exchange was all about sharing knowledge and assisting a colleague with a potential resource.
  23. @fadwaedais So I am really fascinated what you find with this. I can tip you to a bunch of stuff that they have done in Australia #seaccr
  24. @fadwaedais You might want to take a look at the work of David Rose and JR Martin from Univ. of Sydney #seaccr – fascinating stuff as alt.
  25. Similarly, continuing to pass information that may be helpful, based on prior knowledge and project.

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Final Thoughts from the Week that Was

Ultimately, I was able to get a good start on gathering up some research material and articles. I still hope to dig a bit deeper into the roots of peer response groups, since that is a considerable foundation for my line of inquiry. I know from reading and experience that quality peer response groups are predicated on explicit teaching and practice. It takes time to cultivate practices and habits that are beneficial. My hope is to find some additional methods and strategies to improve the groups as well as glean insights into how Google Docs might be better leveraged in the process.