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Writing With Others

“Collaborative Writing is a powerful method of writing that encourages cooperation, critical thinking, peer learning, and active participating toward an end product.  It is meaningful interaction and shared decision making between members of a group using a common set of tools: and thus, the combination of techniques is effective in promoting improved student writing.”

“Collaborative Writing in the Classroom: A Method to Produce Quality Work”
Natalia Hernandez, etc.
University of Texas-Austin, College of Education

“A key to improving students’ writing skills does not lie in simply having them write. They must write and receive meaningful feedback on work in progress, and then they must use that feedback to revise.”

Preparing to Teach Writing: Research, Theory, and Practice
James D. Williams

All stages of writing activities can be done cooperatively: researching, planning, drafting, and revising. Many homeschool parents naturally do the first two steps with their child, but assume a writing co-op must be found for the later.  Not so! 

Researchers Fiona Yarrow and Keith Topping shared their findings on Paired Writing in the British Journal of Educational Psychology. They write, “Paired Writing is a structured but flexible collaborative writing system which combines metacognitive (“knowing about knowing”) and social interactive approaches to supporting children’s writing development.  Designed for parent or peer tutoring or co-composition, it addresses the need identified in research for children to be trained in a clear process.”

I stumbled into paired writing in my homeschool teaching quite by accident. My daughter, a sixth grader at the time, was doing a report on her paternal great-grandparents’ immigration to the United States. The deeper she got into the subject, the deeper we realized the project could go.  Together, we wrote letters to relatives overseas, toured original homes and tourist areas in a neighboring state gathering original documents, and did Internet researched on the family genealogy.  Before we realized it, we had invested four months of time and produced a thirty-page document. 

We proved Yarrow’s comment true: “Collaboration could lead to a higher percentage of time spent on-task, the pair stimulating each other to keep going.”

I caution parents when they sit down to revise a piece of writing with their homeschool student.  They need to set aside their parental and teaching authority and enter into the time as a coach or a peer. 

Observing middle school students doing a peer edit recently, I noticed the first words out of their mouths were always praise. “Wow!"  "This is awesome!"  "I don’t see a thing wrong." "You should hand this assignment in like this!”

While parents can’t afford a complete attitude of  fourteen-year-old naivety, we would be wise to heed the lesson from the young generation.  Peer-editors most often encourage and approve of the writing before offering comments of a critical nature.  Parents should isolate a limited number of errors they want to focus on when working with their student writer. 

A parent who kills the writing spirit by being overly critical can find they have a reluctant writer in the future. A PDF handout - Paired Writing Strategy - can be printed and followed as parents work with their children.