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I avoid reading student work for as long as I can. I do not want to see the handwriting. I do not want to see the punctuation and spelling. I do not want to see the paragraphing or story length. I do not want to be bombarded by the mechanics of the writing. It's like being stoned to death with popcorn.
Instead, I listen as they read aloud.
I listen for the natural flow of words and sentences. I listen for passion, insight, and detailed images. I want the class cringing, laughing, or spontaneously applauding while hearing words flow from the heart.
Simply wanting these magical moments to occur is not enough. We must provide specific language to describe our hopes. We must deliver our clear expectations in precise terms if we want our students to become independent writers.
Small group peer review is a powerful tool. Each writer reads in turn. The group, rubrics at the ready, listens for a particular Trait, and offers reasoned response. But I'm selfish. I want to hear all the stories and I want my class to know everyone's voice. Here is how I do it:
First, establish ground rules for reading aloud and respectful peer review:
A Reader's Circle
Why Students Need To Read Aloud
As a student reads, I jot the title and quick notes on the weak and strong traits. I wait for my students to give feedback before offering my own. I model the use of Traits vocabulary. I always lead with a positive observation before offering a suggestion for revision. I urge the writer to record the group's responses.
All oral reading techniques deal directly with sentence fluency issues. Poetry readings, choral reading, and verbal performances of any kind are Sentence Fluency exercises. I have experimented with wireless microphones and audio and videotape equipment as well. Performances will focus students on Sentence Fluency.
By striving for the artful mix of sentences, we honor and illuminate the Sentence Fluency Trait. As a group, we learn to listen for ripening fluency. Eventually, instead of a boring pattern, an awkward phrase, or stutter - we hear a song!
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