Peer Writing Groups

According to Wendy Bishop, in her chapter “Helping Peer Writing Groups Succeed,” Successful peer groups depend of the proper preparation and eduction of both the student and the instructor.  The teacher must be the guide and assistant to the groups.  Bishop categories potential groups as either fully developed (task- oriented), underdeveloped (leaderless), and non-cohering (dysfunctional).  In order to help teaches understands how to facilitate healthy peer groups, Bishop offers the following profiles:

Ways Peer Writing Groups Fail

  1. Too much or too little leadership.
  2. Poor attendance or participation or preparation of some students leading to resentment between members.
  3. Unclear group goals; group doesn’t value work or works too quickly.
  4. Group doesn’t feel confident of group member’s expertise or members are afraid to offer criticism.
  5. Group doesn’t understand the new role of instructor.
  6. Group never develops adequate vocabulary for discussing writing.
  7. Group fails to record suggestions or make changes based on member’s suggestions.

Ways Peer Writing Groups Succeed

  1. Group successfully involves all members.
  2. Group works to clarify goals and assignments.
  3. Group develops a common vocabulary for discussing writing.
  4. Group learns to identify major writing problems such as organization, tone, and focus, as well a minor writing problems such as spelling errors, and so on.
  5. Group learns to value group work and to see instructor as a resource which the group can call on freely.

Teachers need to:

  • make sure students understand of concepts of collaborative learning (handouts, discussion, ect.).
  • understand the place of group work in their overall curriculum.
  • have an attendance policy.
  • balance group and class time (groups that meet on a regular basis develop a group identity, but they need to retain a class identity through class time as well).
  • organize groups successfully (using ideas like diagnostic test to find strong and weak writers, surveys so students can rate their leadership and risk taking abilities, consider gender and age differences and balance groups effectively).
  • consider having groups choose a name.
  • have groups choose a historian to record the groups progress and ideas and a monitor to watch the time and make sure all group members and papers are covered.
  • articulate group projects with a handout or visible prompt.
  • train group members so that they understand their role in the group.  Give members a handout explaining the role of the historian, monitor, and other group members (attendance, support, sharing ect.).
  • train group members in the use and understanding of appropriate terminology.
  • train group members to work together using role playing or sample essays in a whole class setting.

(qtd. Glenn  343-350)


Works Cited

Glenn, Cheryl, and Melissa A. Goldthwaite. The St. Martin’s Guide to Teaching Writing. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.

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