Thursday, October 18, 2012

What's a Compliment Sandwich?

Last Read Across America Day, a local author – Eric Luper – visited the 2-3s. He told us about how he became a published author. Besides having to write A LOT, find an agent, face rejection, and persevere, Mr. Luper also told us about the support he receives from other writers.

For years, I have incorporated CRITIQUE into my classroom’s writing process. The idea is that children are authors and that the writing process should involve feedback from other writers. The lessons children can get from hearing feedback are powerful. As one of my 3rd graders explained, “We are never DONE. We can make everything we do better.” Sharing our writing with others is a leap—we have to feel safe, trust that others are there to help us, and make sure that we are being constructive as well. How can a teacher help to create that environment?

I have had mentors who have helped me articulate the principles that can guide children in their interactions in the writing process. But last year, Mr. Luper’s description of his own process took my coaching to another level. He—as an adult—sits with other authors. They have articulated and follow a critique process they call a COMPLIMENT SANDWICH. Here are the steps:

1.     When giving feedback, you must first open with a COMPLIMENT. This compliment should be specific and refer directly to the piece being critiqued. As some of my 3rd graders explained, this opening “makes people feel good.”

2.     Next, SUGGESTIONS are offered. We discussed, modeled and have practiced ways to offer ideas that would add to and enhance the piece. One of the aims I have for each of my writers is to learn how to add in juicy details and descriptive language. My students say this suggestion step “inspires people to do something [with their writing].”

3.     Last, the critique closes with ANOTHER COMPLIMENT. The children explain that this “makes people feel really happy and good.”

This sandwich idea has clicked with my students. They remember the steps. The process requires they provide active support and wrap their reactions and suggestions in positive language.  A supportive process means these young writers can take more risks, make more writing moves.

Last week, the 2-3s engaged in full-fledged critiques. The class was divided in half. A group of six or seven assembled and one child at a time read aloud a nature poem he/she had drafted. A second reading immediately followed and fellow writers closed their eyes. My instruction was to “see” specific things to both compliment and suggest for each other. I scribed the feedback each child received.  

Today, the children spread out and critiqued each other more informally on another piece. In small groups, they shared compliment sandwiches for an expressive writing assignment: “If you could be an animal for a day, what animal would you be?” Already, it is evident that these children are able to offer constructive feedback with a bit more independence.  

Critique requires active and creative thinking, idea generating, and synthesis. It also provides purposeful social interaction and teamwork. And as we move through the year, my goals will be that (a) suggestions become more pithy and (b) each writer comes to the critique with specific requests for feedback on a piece. 

I wish you had been a fly on the wall during these productive days. Your children are so impressive.

We are certainly on our way with this year's writing adventures.  

What a Community of Writers!

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