blind peer review

Active Learning and Thinking: Walk and Talk Partner Discussions

Right after the first of the year, one of my favorite teachers and literacy leaders, Sarah Brown Wessling, posted this video about taking her class on the move.  Last year, I crafted and incorporated many learning activities for my high school students that involved movement, and I’ve continued that with my 8th graders during the 2018-2019 school year.  After watching that video, I decided I wanted to try the partner “walk and talk” discussion strategy soon.

Part 1:  Frontloading the Work with Individual Self-Assessment and Reflection

Flash forward to this past Friday.  On Wednesday and Thursday, my 8th graders received a copy of their December Quarter 2 benchmark essay, a writing task that asked them to read two articles and write an expository/informational/explanatory essay in response to the two articles.  We began on Wednesday with the following warm-up:

Nearly every student chose the correct answer, D, but many struggled to actually do that on the benchmark assessment even though we had deconstructed a model essay similar to the benchmark writing task prior to the benchmark assessment and engaged in several hands-on activities to review how to respond to that type of writing assessment and prompt.  In each class, we explored the reasons for the disconnect between understanding the prompt and actually executing it.  We spent the rest of the class on Wednesday and all of Thursday engaging in some self-assessment and reflection to analyze their strengths and weaknesses in their essay response:

As students completed the first reflection, they came to me for a quick 1:1 conference about their reflection work before moving on to the additional reflection activities.  All of these became part of their literacy portfolio along with the copy of their benchmark essay.  In addition, we spent the last 10 minutes of class on Thursday adding some additional pieces of student work and reflections they completed prior to the December break to the portfolio as well as an updated Lexile/SRI reading progress report.

Part 2:  From Individual Work to Collaborative Work and Discussion

On Friday, every table group arrived to find a pastel folder with a set of 2-3 student benchmark writing/essays in the folder.  All identifying information was stripped from each piece of writing and assigned a number; I also ran copies of these pieces of writing on different colors of neon paper by table or “station” group.

I did several variations of the table/station work for this blind peer review of essays.  My main goal for this activity was for students to read a range of writing from their peers and to apply the self-assessment criteria we had used for our own writing earlier in the week to these pieces of writing.  For my 1st period team taught class, students were asked to read the essays/writing pieces in the folder at their table and then use this evaluation tool to assess the writing.  For my 4th period class, students read the pieces of writing individually but to evaluate the writing collaboratively.  For both classes, table groups then voted on the best piece of writing and explained what made it the best one at their station/table group.

The activity generated great conversation within the table groups as they analyzed and shared their reflections to come to a consensus on the best pieces of writing.  It was interesting to hear students debate “top” writing choices at some of the table groups and to hear them make their case for those choices using the writing/rubric criteria.  This aspect of the activity generated the most critical thinking, and I think students benefited from it as well as the act of reading work from their peers and seeing that range of quality in the writing.

Between 4th period and my final classes (Period 5 and 6), we have a break in the day known as “War Time” (we are the War Eagles).  This is a recess period, but we also have make-up time for different subject areas each day as well as detention for students who may be struggling with points on our discipline system in our building.  As we were standing outside on Friday during War Time, I was struck by how mild the weather was (mid 50s) and what beautiful weather it was for January and better than what was forecasted for the day.  I also was pondering the fact that it was Friday afternoon and wondered if I might do yet another variation on the station activity for my final two classes of the day.  It hit me that this would be the perfect opportunity to do a partner walk and talk, but instead of staying inside the building, we would GO OUTSIDE!

When we returned indoors to begin 5th period, I asked my students if they would like a chance to go back outside  Of course, 8th graders love being outdoors and enthusiastically responded YES.  I explained to them we could do the 2nd half of class outdoors but if and only if everyone was laser focused on the first half of our indoor time work.  Talk about the ultimate carrot!  I explained they were going to read the essays and complete the evaluation sheet.  If they finished early, they could begin the “blue ribbon” best of essays reflection.  I set the countdown time clock to 20 minutes on my computer and projected it on the board, and they began.  Everyone was super focused and working intently.  Once time was up, I instructed students they would need all their evaluation forms, including the blue ribbon reflection even if it was not quite finished; they were also instructed to take their neon colored essay handout with them outside.  I repeated the same instructions and procedures for 6th, and they also jumped right into their work.


Once outside, they were directed to find a partner; it could be anyone but someone from their table group!  They quickly found partners, and I lined them up two by two.  I explained that the partner on the left would speak first as they walked and talked.  Our partner talk instructions were these:

  1.  Explain the rubric you completed for each essay you read and evaluated.
  2.  You may point at specific parts of the essay on the neon paper as you talk through the evaluation you completed in addition to anything else you feel is important for your partner to know about that piece of writing.
  3. Talk through your “blue ribbon” reflection even if not quite finished because you can talk through the unfinished parts verbally if needed.
  4. Your partner can ask questions and for clarifications as needed at any time.

Once the partner on the left completed these talking and sharing tasks, the partner on the right would then become the lead in the discussion.  I let them know I would be walking along side and moving about to make mental notes and video notes with my iPhone, so all conversation needed to be on point.  Once we had finished our first round, we swapped partners and did a second round of conversation.  Each round of conversation took about 1.5 to 2 laps around our grassy area in front of the school we have War Time.  My 5th period started and finished strong!


Sixth period did a fabulous job with the partner walk and talk as well though we did have to pause after the first 90 seconds to redirect and make sure everyone understood our purpose and instructions.  Once we did that quick “reset”, my 6th period students were on fire with their thinking and sharing as walked along and discussed our work.

We returned inside after about 15-20 minutes outside, and students had the chance to finish up any written work or to add to before turning in all their written components.  Students commented and shared in their written reflections they enjoyed talking with a partner from another group about the essays they read; several commented this activity also forced them to work with someone they normally would not choose, and they enjoyed that aspect of the activity!

I was so impressed with the quality of discussions from my students in both classes!  Everyone stepped up and really put themselves into the conversations.  Though the elements of being outdoors and movement could have been distracting, I think they actually enhanced the conversation and discussion experience for each round of partner walk and talk.   I hope we will have some milder days ahead in the mornings so that I can give my 1st and 4th periods this kind of learning experience soon though we could certainly adapt and do it indoors in the hallways.  I definitely recommend this activity for any teacher, and you can easily adapt it for any subject area and age group.  This by far was one of my favorite activities I’ve ever done with students and so much fun!

A heartfelt thank you to Sarah Brown Wessling, a master teacher, for so generously sharing her experiences and ideas from the trenches of real world teaching in a public school!  In addition to the links I shared earlier to her Facebook page as well as her website, you can also learn more about her over here at the Teaching Channel and see more videos of her in action.

Strategic Writing Loops and Blind Peer Review for the Georgia Milestones EOC Test

This Friday, April 27 and Monday, April 30, my juniors will take the Georgia Milestones/End of Course test in 11th American Literature and Composition Language Arts, a state exam that counts as 20% of their final average.  Though ideally I would have done more intentional writing loops earlier in the year like those outlined in the series from Moving Writers, we have been focusing on practice and work with mentor texts with the three types of writing tasks my students will see:

  • Constructed Response: item asks a question, and you provide a response that you construct on your own. These questions are worth two points. Partial credit may be awarded if part of the response is correct.
  • Extended Constructed Response:  item is a specific type of constructed-response item that requires a longer, more detailed response. These items are worth four points. Partial credit may be awarded.  At least one of these items will be a narrative prompt based on a passage presented to a student.
  • Extended Writing Response:  this  item is located in section one of the ELA EOC (Day 1 of the test).  Students are expected to produce an argument or develop an informative or explanatory response based on information read in two passages.  The extended writing response task is scored on a 7-point scale: 4 points for idea  development, organization, and coherence, and 3 points for language usage and conventions.

Though I feel my students are fairly well prepared for all of the possible writing tasks, I also believe it is important to provide them practice writing situations with the kinds of test prompts they will see so they can feel comfortable with the structure and language of the prompt.   We began reviewing and composing constructed responses roughly ten days ago, and our starting point was a writer’s notebook prompt asking students to recall what they knew about argumentative writing since that was my first writing genre of focus.  Once students had time to brainstorm individually, we composed collaborative lists in four of my classes.  You can look at the similarities and differences in depth and detail below:

Interestingly enough, my “lower” level classes included more details in their lists, and my 4B class made connections back to mentor texts we had studied last semester and this semester.   My 4B  class was so enthusiastic and engaged that I could barely keep up with them as I typed their responses—this moment was truly a memorable moment for a class that has come far from August when they felt they should not be asked to do any thinking or work on a Friday!

Once we completed our notebook time and collaborative share out, we reviewed the criteria for a high quality response on a constructed argumentative writing task.  Using the online materials from the DOE, I provided students a sample prompt and they composed their response in class.  I then collected these, made copies on neon paper (color coded by class period),  and  then used assorted neon stickers to hide names for the blind peer review activity I had planned as our next step.

My first pass at the blind peer review was this past Tuesday with periods 2A and 4A; my original design was to have students provide blind peer review individually.  We began with notebook time in which students looked at an exemplar constructed response for our prompt; students also got to look at a model that would have received one point and a model that would have received zero points.  For each model, I asked students to list their noticing about each model; we then shared aloud.  With the notebook time and noticings as our springboard, we then moved into our blind peer review gallery walk.

As we began our blind peer review gallery walk, I asked students to complete these tasks for each draft reviewed:

  1.  Read the draft closely and then complete a rubric with two open ended questions.  Once finished, place the rubric in the folder that is next to the draft (mounted on pastel chart paper) and put a check on the folder to indicate you have placed a rubric in the folder.
  2.  Annotate one piece of the draft; I provided students a handout with sentence starters for possible “glows” and “grows” to use if they got stuck.  These statements were based on the criteria on the state rubric for a constructed response on the EOC test.  I mounted the drafts on the pastel chart paper so that students would have plenty of room to annotate.
  3. Try to gather “mentor” sentences of high quality writing that they might collect to use as models for their own writing; I provided students a handout to serve as their collecting place for these mentor sentences.

Students worked for about 40-45 minutes on the gallery walk with the goal of reviewing as many drafts as possible with quality.  Once completed, I sent students to their own work using a roster of the number assignments I had crafted to make sure everyone found his/her work.  Students then did a brief three question reflection before leaving; once finished, students could fold their chart paper with the draft annotations/feedback and tuck in the folder with their rubrics to take home with them.

While I was pleased with the flow of the activity, I didn’t quite feel the energy I had expected from either class.  After thinking about what I might do differently to ramp up the energy of the activity, I decided to have students work in pairs the next day.  To make the assignment of pairs random and fast, I simply had students come find a table when they arrived in the media center with the stipulation of no more than two people per table.

This move was DEFINITELY the right one!  Because students knew they would need to read the draft with their partner and collaborate on all areas of the feedback, they were more intentional with their constructive reading of the drafts and the feedback they were providing.  I was incredibly impressed by the depth and detail of many of the conversations I heard as I walked around and observed students working; I felt joy listening to the thinking that was taking place out loud.  I highly recommend having students work and talk through their analysis of a draft of writing in pairs.

In closing, this activity was a considerable investment of time (especially on our modified block schedule), especially for a constructed response, but I think it was a great opening writing loop and collaborative thinking activity for my students.  We’re doing some shorter bursts of different responses and collaborative work now as we get closer to test day.  As I return to middle school this fall to teach 8th Language Arts,  I hope to incorporate these writing loops and experiences earlier into the year and into our units of writing year-round; these kinds of experiences will fit into my larger framework of having writing groups and circles in my classroom in 2018-19.