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Dear Young Writers, Your Audience Matters.

A month ago today, I enjoyed a virtual flower arrangement workshop from the comfort of my kitchen. I chose to use this experience as a topic for an information book–one that mirrored what writers were creating in the classroom. I showed up to our community meeting for Talk About It Tuesday with the headings planned across my book and section one drafted. . .

“I did some writing yesterday, and I thought you could help me. I was thinking that you’re the kind of writers who could coach me. You can help me understand if my writing makes sense to an audience and share the questions you still have as my readers.”

I invited my audience of fourth graders to study the labeled sketches on the page then began to read my writing aloud. I then said, “Are there places in my writing where you had questions? Maybe there was a place where you felt confused or you wanted to hear more about what I was teaching.” I love how brave and honest fourth graders are when it comes to giving their teachers feedback about their work. Here are the feedback jots I added to my book that morning:

We wrapped up our time together by touching upon how receiving the feedback was not enough. I would have to take some time during workshop to address what my audience needed from me to better understand my teaching. I needed to take action in my writing.

A few hours later, it was time for writing workshop. There were three writers I planned to pull into a socially distanced group immediately after the mini lesson, for they were “done” at the end of writing on Monday afternoon. We gathered together in the closest proximity possible, and writers quickly began nodding to my words. . .

“You’re the kind of writers who work in a similar way. You draft quickly and then go back into your writing to figure out how to say more. Something that you were noticing about your own writing yesterday was that each section of your book is a bit short. You gave some information about each part of your topic then moved onto the next, and that’s okay. Now, you’re ready to elaborate a bit more. You are all working towards the same goal of elaborating, or saying more, in your writing.”

We reached back to the steps we took as a writing community earlier in the day. I listened in as these three writers reviewed what they remembered. We put our eyes on my book to remember what the feedback jots looked like.

“Sometimes, as writers, we need our readers to help us understand how to move forward. I thought that you could now coach each other. . .Let’s rotate those informational books. . .I’ll even give you some colored sticky notes for this important work.”

Their eyes sparkled, and they let out silent cheers. Those writers got right to work reading and finding places where they had questions for each other. Just as I suspected, questions from classmates got pencils dancing across the pages of their information books again.

The best part? When other writers around the room felt like they were done drafting too, I sent a writer from small group to be a coach: “Another writer is ready for next steps! You are ready to be a writing coach now. Take your book to do another swap and explain what steps you’ll take together.”

These partner conferences, originally planned as a space for questions and answers to lift the level of elaboration, also branched off into compliments and comments on conventions. Together, young writers helped each other lift the level of their writing from good to great.

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