I discovered the video Austin’s Butterfly a few years ago through a Twitter post. This amazing video shows the power of a learning community and how learners can grow with work and honest feedback. In the video, a teacher shares a student’s attempts to draw a butterfly from a photograph. Not only does he share the drafts but there is also discussion about the feedback given after each draft. By the seventh draft of the drawing, Austin’s butterfly is one he is ready to call a finished product.
I had used this video in a social studies unit on community but then saw the potential of its power to introduce a short cycle on revision in our writing workshop. So in late fall, just as I wanted to begin to help my students give better feedback, we watched the video and talked about the number of revisions it took for Austin to draw a butterfly he was proud of and the effect of his friends’ feedback on his work.
Revision and Editing: Ruth’s Chart
We had been working with Ruth Ayres’s Follow Your Own Writing Process chart to think about our own writing process. This visual helps readers think about their own writing process and where they are in it each day. I noticed that my students were consistently stuck when it came to the ideas of revision and editing. They didn’t pay much attention to revision but had a lot to say about editing for spelling and punctuation. The main way they knew to improve their writing was to add periods and to spell words correctly. But that did not change the quality of their writing. And it was not where I wanted my students to focus their feedback. So we focused on the revision piece of this and talked about what it means to revise as it related to Austin’s Butterfly.
Because my students “knew” Ruth Ayres from our conversations, we watched her video 4 Revision Choices and talked about ways to give feedback using the four ideas Ruth shares—delete, add, replace, and move. We practiced as a class on several pieces of student writing that I had collected over the years. We projected these onto the Smartboard and discussed ideas for revising.
Creating feedback groups was our next step in this learning cycle. To begin to help my kids think about asking peers for feedback, we had a few minilessons on being part of a feedback group. I wanted my students to grow as writers because of the feedback they received. I also knew it was important that they take their job as readers seriously. I know that with writing feedback, being with people you trust is critical. I wanted my students to have some say in choosing the people who gave them feedback, so I gave this form to each student as we began to talk about the idea of having a group of people for the next several weeks who would meet to give and take feedback as writers. I gave students time to be thoughtful about filling out this form:
We will be forming writing response groups—groups of people with whom you will work on your narrative pieces. Think about the people in the class and list four you would like to be with in a group. Think about people who would give you good feedback on your writing. You will be getting and giving feedback. Groups will be made up of three to five people. You will be with at least one person you choose.
Four people you’d like to think with:
I wanted my students to give specific feedback connected to the big ideas Ruth shared in her video, so I created this form to use. I also wanted them to learn to give feedback on things that connected to the work we’d been doing in previous minilesson work as part of our narrative unit of study. I wanted them to practice giving positive feedback as well as giving suggestions for making the writer better. I certainly didn’t expect them to fill in every spot in the form, but I wanted them to have a visual reminder to balance the compliments and suggestions across the categories.
Giving feedback took longer than I expected, so after I created groups of four students, the groups met daily for nearly two weeks. To prepare for the groups, I made four copies of each child’s writing. Each day, the group chose one piece to read, and I distributed a copy to each group’s members along with a feedback form. The feedback groups would read one member’s piece of writing and fill out a feedback form preparing for the next day’s group. The next day, the group would focus on feedback for one piece of writing. We repeated this two-day cycle until every writer received feedback. At the end of this day’s conversation, the writer left with the feedback forms from his or her peers so that he or she could refer to them when moving on to revising their own writing.
Revision in Action
I wanted the process of getting feedback and using that feedback to make your writing better to be valued and visible to my students beyond the unit. Four students volunteered to demonstrate the ways that they used the learning and feedback from our cycle to revise their writing. The video Revision Tips was then accessible to all students throughout the year as a reminder of ways to improve the quality of your writing with and without feedback.
Teaching feedback and revision became a powerful anchor for our workshop for the remainder of the school year. Combining the two in this way was powerful. My students approached feedback groups and revision with energy that I had not seen in previous years. The large amount of time it took for students to practice giving high-quality feedback and to understand how feedback could help them improve their writing was worth every minute.