In a fifth grade classroom Jack, Brandon, and Bo engage in a peer revision group. Each boy shares his writing and asks for specific feedback. Jack shares his alien story and wants to know what he needs to add to make the alien invasion more exciting. Brandon shares the next chapter in his growing graphic novel and asks the other boys to help him make it more funny. And Bo discusses his informational how-to about various skateboarding moves. He has five cool moves illustrated and labeled and needs ideas for other moves.
When the discussion dissipates I lean in and ask, “I noticed some great discussion happening in your group. What did you learn from one another?”
Jack, “I wanted the alien invasion to be epic. I already had about 1000 ships landing and the aliens taking over the Earth. And Brandon gave me a good idea about the aliens having these huge, ginormous eyes and whenever a human looked into their eyes the aliens would have mind control. So I am going to add all sorts of ways the aliens started controlling the humans. And turned them into their slaves!”
Bo, “And I got some new skateboarding move ideas. I already wrote how to do an ollie, a grind, a carve, a goofyfoot. But Brandon told me about a kickflip so I’m adding that to my book. And he also explained a McTwist to me. So I’ll put that one in there, too.”
I wondered, “What the heck is a McTwist?”
Brandon, “Oh, well when you’re up on a ramp, you like launch yourself up really high and hold your board and turn around like 3 or 4 times. I can’t do it yet. But one day…”
I ask, “So, normally you confer with Ms. D about your writing, but today you had a chance to talk with one another about your writing. In your experience, what’s the difference?”
Brandon, “Ms. D is a great teacher and she has a lot of great ideas to help you with your writing, but she doesn’t also get my humor. So, when I’m working on my graphic novel I don’t think she really knows how to help me make it funny.”
Bo, “And she has NO IDEA about skateboarding!”
The boys laugh until Jack speaks poignantly about the difference between a teacher-led conference and a conferring led by a group of peers. “Ms. D knows a ton about writing. A ton! And she gives us lots of great ideas about beginning a story or ending a story to keep readers into it. She’s really good at telling us places where she’s lost and where we need to add stuff. But there’s a lot of things she doesn’t know that Bo and Brandon know. Like, she really has no idea about skateboarding, but we do! So we can give Bo much better ideas about other skateboarding moves. That’s why we like meeting in groups. We can teach each other.”
We teachers don't have all the answers. That's why we need to make space for many teachers in the classroom. Sometimes, the best teacher for a boy writer is another boy writer.
About the Author
Brian Kissel is an Associate Professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His focus is writing instruction. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Hattie and three kiddos: Charlie, Ben, and Harriet.