A few years ago, I took the Writing for Children and Teens course through the Institute for Writers. There were nine modules in the course, covering everything from “How to Write Effective Description” to “Revising For a Different Readership Age.” Each module ended with a writing assignment where I got to practice the skills I learned and send the assignment in to get feedback from a published author.
Yes…a real author.
Talk about pressure for a new writer!
At the time, I taught 5th grade and I shared my writing life with my students in any way I could. I would often bring in my notebook to share its entries, talk about the words I had written over the weekend during our Monday morning check-in, or would often write alongside my students during writing time.
It was important for me that my students knew that I was a writer too, just like I was asking them to be. I wanted them to see me living the writerly life and all the noticings, decisions, effort, struggles and celebrations it involved. I had found success in sharing my reading life with my students and knew I could find similar results by doing the same with my writing life.
There were times when the writing I had to do for my course was very challenging. It stretched me in ways I hadn’t been stretched before. I felt like a complete amateur, unsure and not knowing if my words were hitting their mark. (Hmmm..I wonder if my students ever felt that way?)
I also had the pressure of turning in my writing to an author weighing heavily on me. I wanted to produce writing that was good. Writing that impressed the author. Writing that showed I wasn’t the beginner I felt like.
Then it struck me. I had 24 ideal audience readers sitting right before me every day. THEY were the reader I was writing for. Why not ask them for their feedback on my writing before I sent it in to my real, live, published author?
Seeking Student Feedback
In our writing workshop, I taught my students to use the TAG Method for providing feedback on each other’s writing:
(To download a copy of this TAG Me! Poster, click here.)
TAG is a supportive and effective way to give feedback and gather ideas for revision. Because we practiced this technique in our workshop on a daily basis, my students knew the routine. Asking them to TAG my writing seemed like the perfect answer the questions I had about whether or not my writing was hitting its mark.
I made copies of my assignment and asked my students to “TAG it.” At first, they were a bit skeptical — a teacher was asking her students for their opinion? But they quickly sat up a little straighter and rose to the challenge. They knew that my assignment would also be critiqued by an actual author, which only added to their seriousness for the task before them.
I couldn’t have been happier with the results! The insights my students offered, things they noticed, and suggestions they made strengthened my writing and made it more authentic for the audience I was trying to reach. My mentor author noticed too, commenting on the ‘advanced development’ my writing showed.
One of the best things I ever did was share my writing with my students. After this first experience, I repeated it for every other assignment in my course and for other writing as well. When we sat in a circle for share time at the end of the workshop, I offered my writing up right along with my students. I was one of them.
When I first started sharing my writing with my students, I was only looking for their TAG feedback so I knew how to revise my piece. But I quickly found many other unexpected benefits that made sharing my writing with them so worthwhile. Benefits that I never could have imagined, but am so glad I discovered.
And you can too!
Here are the benefits that can come from teachers asking their students to critique their writing:
1. You are modeling how to be brave.
Writing is such a personal thing. It is difficult for us to open our words up for others to read and judge. Maybe it’s because we have bad memories of a piece of our writing having run-in with a red pen or we don’t feel like we are very good, but showing students how to be brave and seek feedback on their writing is powerful stuff. Once you start sharing your writing, don’t be surprised to see once hesitant-to-share students follow in your footsteps and reach out for authentic feedback just like you did.
2. Students can actually make your writing better.
I remember a discussion I had with my students about the ending of one of my stories. I felt like it was not very strong, but couldn’t come up with an ending I liked. My students brainstormed ideas with me and we came up with an ending that was perfect. My students also told me when there was a place in my writing where they were confused or felt something was missing. Being so close to a piece of writing makes it hard to see these things for ourselves sometimes, but my students caught them every time.
3. Sharing and seeking feedback makes learning purposeful.
We ask our students to do a lot of things in the classroom, but are we modeling the real-life importance of what we are asking them to do? When you show your students that YOU are a writer too, you are helping them connect what you are teaching them in class to what can be used in life by showing them how you use the writing skills in your own life and your own writing. This gives learning to write an important purpose.
4. Students will see you as the real deal.
Would you like to learn to fly from a flight instructor who doesn’t fly themselves — they just stand outside the plane and tell you what to do? I doubt it. Also, think about why those popular cooking shows feature the chef actually in the kitchen cooking — because we see them as more credible and believable when they are telling us what to do. When my students saw that I was a writer too, they became more likely to buy in to what I was teaching them.
5. It empowers student-writers.
Students know that it is highly unusual for a teacher to ask them for feedback and they don’t take this job lightly. They will review your work carefully and most likely want to impress you with the suggestions they make. Even when my students were looking at a piece of my writing that would not be sent off to my author-mentor, they still felt a sense of pride from being able to play “teacher” to my writing piece. (As an important side note, not one of them used a red pen on my writing!)
6. Students will have to dig into their toolbox of writing knowledge.
Asking students for their feedback will require them to go back into their learning and pull out what you’ve taught them and apply it to your writing piece. You will make them think. You will know what skills have been ingrained in their memories and which need a review.
If you are a teacher who writes, do you share your writing with your students and ask them to critique it? If you don’t, I challenge you to give it a try so you can experience these added benefits yourself.
Asking for my students’ feedback really changed the writing climate in our classroom. I noticed that my students began to ask more purposeful and intentional questions when talking about each other’s writing. Those students who were hesitant to reach out for feedback, now felt more brave in doing so because I had modeled that bravery for them. This tiny act strengthened the teacher-writer/student-writer connection that fueled our writing classroom all year long.
It made us a community of writers.
If you’d like to download a copy of the TAG Me! Poster, you can find it here.