Writing Circles Spur Story Development

Expert Shows How Writing Circles Can Improve Student Writing

Writing is a great way to express your individual thoughts and feelings and is often a personal exercise as we improve technique, style and mechanics.

Author and educator Richard Koch, however, wants to show students and teachers that it can be a journey of improvement with feedback from peers.

 Author and educator Richard Koch spent time visiting elementary classrooms including Teacher Mrs. Kathleen Giegel’s second-grade classroom and Teacher Danielle DeMay's classrom modeling how to engage in writing circles and to give feedback to one another's writing pieces.

“Writers work on their piece more than once,” said Mr. Koch. “I am teaching students how to add more to their stories, when they can’t think of anything more.”

Mr. Koch taught students about the PQS response technique, which helps peers engage in a focused, sequential revising process and discussion.

As a student is sharing his or her story, students first respond with “praise,” telling the writer what they liked about the text. Next, students “question,” the writer indicating what points needed more clarification or areas in which they were curious and wanted more information. Finally, students are encouraged to offer 1-3 “suggestions” for the writer to make, which often emerge from the questions.

To prepare for Mr. Koch’s visit, students had spent time writing in their journals. First, they created life maps, which were diagrams/drawings of major events in their lives and then they worked on their journals. Students said the life maps helped them organize their ideas.

“A life map is something that you draw, which helps help you write,” said second grader Lucy Kissman. “It was fun. I like using the life map to help give me ideas, but sometimes I just like to just write, too.”

Mr. Koch organized students into a writing circle. One student volunteered to share his writing. In this case, it was Joseph McAfee, who wrote about a little mouse who took an unexpected swim in his milkshake one evening. A second student served as a team leader and other students offered praised, questions and suggestions.  The students helped lead Joseph in developing more detail for his story. Some students wanted to know where the mouse went and more information about what happened to the mouse after it made an untimely visit into his milkshake.

In addition, Mr. Koch said that writing Circles can be a “key pivot point in classroom writing work because they get students thinking more deeply about writing and quality writing and lessen the sense that everyone is waiting to talk to the teacher. Students can often get good ideas from one another; and foster meaningful revision because the writer is responding to her/his peers as readers or listeners of the piece of writing.”

Mr. Koch teaches education majors in Michigan and co-authored the “Portfolio Guidebook: Implementing Quality in an Age of Standards.”

The session is a part of an initiative in which the district is teaming up with the Western PA Writing Project to increase the quality and positive writing experiences for children. The project includes professional development sessions for the staff.   Teachers Kathy Giegel and Bonnie Allessi were awarded a grant from the Pine-Richland Opportunities Fund (PROF) to fund the project, in partnership with the school district.