I am sure as high school English teachers we all know or have all taught someone whose first language is not English and if you haven’t yet I am sure you will encounter one soon. Currently in the public school system English language learners (ELL’s) make up, “9.1 percent of the student population, 4.4 million students” (nces.ed.gov). This is a large quantity of students and it is estimated to keep growing. ELL’s present some unique learning challenges in the context of the English classroom especially when it comes to writing. Why is this?
- Written communication is more formal
- Spoken communication allows for more ‘mistakes’
- Less reflection goes into spoken English than written English
- Expectations are much higher for formal written English via abouteducation.com
So how can we improve upon ELL’s writing? One strategy that has shown great promise is peer response. Peer response in a nutshell is the use of peers/learners as sources of information. Essentially students take on the roles of the teacher and critique each other’s writing. Many experts harp on the benefits of peer response and believe it is a great tool to use in the classroom,
“Teachers can incorporate it as a way to present writing skills to students, ideally creating a student-centered classroom with learners capable of critically evaluating their own written work” (Bell, 1991; Braine, 2003; Tang & Tithecott, 1999).
“students who evaluate writing become better writers” (Lundstrom, Baker 31).
Peer response can work not only with general education students but also with English language learners.Peer response gives ELL’s the opportunity to fine-tune not only their writing but also their revision process As Min states in his Article, “The Effects of Trained Peer Review on EFL Students’ Revision Types and Writing Quality”, peer response helps with ELL’s writing process and ultimately with them acquiring the English language.
“peer response/review has been found to help students obtain more insight into their writing and revision processes, foster a sense of ownership of the text, generate more positive attitudes toward writing, enhance audience awareness and facilitate their second language acquisition and oral fluency development”(Min 1).
Peer response can potentially have a variety of benefits when used with English language learners (improving writing quality, fostering revision, helping with language acquisition) like the quotes above mention, but how exactly do we conduct peer response in a way to get these desired results? What can you do to make it effective for ELL’s
Setting up an Effective Peer Response
First you need get your students prepared to use peer response, in order to do this you need to create a comfortable environment and establish trust among the students in your class. This step is crucial when you have ELL’s in the classroom. ELL’s depending on their language level are linguistically isolated and may be lacking in strong relationships with their peers due to limited interactions. So how do we get them better acquainted with their English speaking peers? This can be done by engaging in other collaborative activities to get your students comfortable working with their peers. Also using ice breaker activities among students so they can get to know one another better. By doing this two simple things you can build relationships amongst students and get them use to working with one another and ready for peer response.
Next using a peer response feedback sheet or some other type of graphic organizer can be hugely beneficially to conducting a peer response that is effective for ELL’s. Graphic organizers are excellent for ELL’s to use; they act as visual tools that help ELLs understand and organize information. I included a link below to a peer response feedback sheet that would be great to give students. By using a response sheet you are able to structure student responses, organize and document their comments, and also help not only ELL’s but all students navigate through this new process.
Helpful Tips for your English Speaking Students
Your students will be the ones completing the peer response so it is important that they know how to work collaboratively and effectively with their ELL peers. Here are some things to remind them before they embark on the peer response process.
What to do
- Respond helpfully and respectfully -remember a lot of ELL’s lack confidence in their writing abilities be cognizant of that as you conduct peer response.
- Be very specific in the comments you make
- Explain your reasoning behind what you say -help the ELL to see why you made a correction/comment Th
Things to Avoid
- Talking down to the ELL -See them as your peer and equal
- Giving vague responses -Be specific in your comments or you run the risk of the ELL not comprehending what you mean
The final thing I wanted to touch on and make sure you all remember is peer response is not always go as planned or work the way you want it to. Urbanski touches on this in her article Becoming Independent: Writing and Literature Groups,
“Students do not bring drafts,. Students do bring drafts but they have nothing to say about each other’s work. Students bring drafts , do not trust their classmates, and want me to read each draft in class”(Urbanski 149).
Even though you may think you have planned out the perfect peer response activity and tailored it to meet the needs of ELL’s in your mixed classroom it still may not work perfectly but don’t let this discourage you! Practice until your students get use to a routine and eventually you and your students hard work will pay off.