For the past five weeks I've been working with a group of 6th graders on narrative writing. We've focused on the structure components of writing: organization, leads, transitions, and endings as well as development in elaboration and craft.
As this work evolved it became crystal clear that these students needed many examples of writing that they could emulate. After looking at some mentor texts, we started using a protocol for sharing their writing. It was a simple protocol, each student shared his/her piece, and everyone in the group gave feedback, both warm and cool. It wasn't okay to "pass" when it was your turn, and it wasn't okay to skip giving feedback either.
So, what did we consider warm and cool feedback? For my sixth graders "warm feedback" was complimentary, yet specific. It was no longer okay for these kids to say, "I liked your writing." They provided specific feedback, often using language from our writing checklists. For example, "I like how you used a flashback to fill us in on what else we needed to know about your story." Or, "When you started your piece with a feeling, it put me into your story. The descriptive words like, startled and shocked help me understand."
"Cool feedback" was feedback that asked the writer to think more deeply about his/her writing and consider revision. Respecting the writer was a key factor in giving cool feedback. Again, feedback was specific and aimed at helping rather then pointing out downfalls. Students in the group became very thoughtful and specific, such as, "It would help me see your story if you could put in some more details about the setting." Or, "I think the heart of your story was really when....maybe you could elaborate more there."
During the course of our work these students became their own best teachers. With support and a bit of coaxing they became much more skilled at giving each other feedback. They showed courage when it came to sharing work in progress, showed empathy toward each other, and realized along the way that taking risks as writers is part of the process. They are their own best teachers, and I'm very proud of them!