The relationship between talk in peer-response groups and students' writing in fifth-grade classrooms

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Bedard, Carol

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This study reports a teacher research investigation documenting the relationship between classroom talk during peer-response writing groups and fifth-grade students’ writing in a writing workshop. Prior to the beginning of the study, the students participated in a series of talk lessons that taught them how to work collaboratively and how to talk in an exploratory manner. Data gathering included field notes, video tapes of mini-lessons, transcripts of recorded peer conferences, two sets of written work (a narrative set and an informative set), two student surveys, and interview data. Analysis of peer conference transcripts, written work, field notes, and student surveys indicated that reader-based feedback encouraged revision (51% of suggestions were acted upon), and suggestions corresponded closely to the instructional context of the writing workshop. Criterion-based feedback provided opportunities for students to explain and defend their writing. Analysis of peer conference transcripts and student interviews suggested that talk in peer-response writing groups supported learning by group members sharing ideas and new perspectives, explaining and justifying their opinions, and defining vocabulary words for each other. Moreover, the talk in the groups promoted student engagement with their topics. Data from student interviews indicated that talk in peer- response writing groups supports the collaborative learning model. Each group acquired its own identity, encouraged group norms for interaction and behavior, and developed a sense of camaraderie. Teaching students how to work collaboratively and how to talk in an exploratory manner (through Talk Lessons) helped mitigate against unequal power distributions in these groups. The collaborative learning in the peer-response writing groups encouraged agency in two ways: student voices were heard and through talk students developed a concept of self as they explained their thinking, and consequently, brought into focus their values, rights, and obligations.