Sunday, 13 October 2013

Welcome to the First Young Author's Conference at YGLSS!

For the past three weeks or so, my Class VI and VII students have been working on developing a piece of written work for our inaugural English Language Young Author’s Conference, something I used to do at my school every year when I was young. My colleague, Lopen Thinley Pelden, has already carried out a similar project with the Class VI students in Dzongkha. The intention behind the conference is to give students an authentic audience for their work other than a teacher with a red pen, so that they really get to see and experience the benefits of writing as a valuable and unique form of expression. Students were allowed to choose their own genre of writing and in my classes students decided to write poems, comic books, folk tales, narrative essays, persuasive essays, songs and short stories.

Sangay and Dawa with their poems
Planning Questionnaire

We began the process with a planning questionnaire to help the students think more deeply about their writing. Who would be the audience for their work? What did they want their audience to feel and experience when reading their work? What kinds of elements of successful writing would they need to think about – e.g. punctuation, paragraphs, spelling, grammar? What specific text features would they need to think about for their particular genre – e.g. topic sentences for persuasive essays, character and setting for short stories, stanzas and rhyme for poetry. Students were also encouraged to set a goal for at least one aspect of their writing that they wanted to improve upon during the project. 

Jigme with his Dzongkha poem
Different methods for pairs work

To make filling out the planning questionnaire more enjoyable, the students sat in two concentric circles, the outer circle facing inwards and the inner circle facing outwards. They then discussed one question at a time with the partner sitting opposite them with the outside circle rotating to a new partner after each question. By the time the questionnaire was complete, students had spoken with several of their peers and had  a much better idea about what they wanted to write and how they should go about doing it. 

VIIB Using Inside and Outside Circles to Complete their Planning Questionnaire
Editing Bookmarks

Next the students worked together to create “Editing Bookmarks” where they wrote down all the elements of good writing that they would need to check for when editing their own and others’ work. Similar to the questionnaire, this bookmark will help to remind them of all the elements of writing that they need to consider not only when writing but also when editing each others’ work. The students loved decorating and personalising their bookmarks and now they keep them in their English textbooks to not only mark their page and but also to help them with their editing.
Premika with her bookmark

 A brainstorm of writing elements for persuasive essays
First Drafts and Peer Editing

The next step in the process was all about peer editing. Students brought their first drafts to school and I matched them up with an ‘editing buddy’. It took me a little bit of extra time the night before to match the weaker writing students with stronger writing students but I think the effort was worthwhile. Most teachers know what can happen when you let students select their own partners: the hard-working, conscientious students gravitate towards each other, while the kids who like to joke around and have fun are pulled by an irresistible attraction to each other. Intentionally matching them up in this way gives more structure and meaning to their editing work. Because the weaker writing students also sometimes have trouble finding errors in the stronger students’ work, I also matched stronger students with stronger students so that after they finished working with their editing buddy, they could have some time with a classmate of about the same level of writing proficiency.

Peer Editing in the sun
Peer Editing in the sun
 Writing a Second Draft

Students then took their work home, corrected it based on their editing buddy’s assessments and brought their second draft back to school to be marked by their teacher. I decided to do most of the marking based on their second draft as it still reflected mostly their own work but they had been given a chance to correct some aspects of their errors as guided by their editing buddy.

Most second drafts still needed a lot of correction

But most students did a great job with their correction
 Assessment Rubric

I created a quick assessment rubric with criteria marked from 1 to 10 on a number line so that it’s easy for students to visually assess how they are progressing in that area. I selected the criteria based on the elements of writing that the students themselves suggested were important for good writing and then added a few more related to the difficulty of their chosen text, their ability to effectively correct their own work and the quality of their final presentation. Marks for ‘second correction’ and ‘presentation’ were left blank, to be given after students had presented their final work. 

Assessment Rubric

 Using a Marking Code

When marking students’ work previously, I had noticed that many students would happily copy my corrections into their final drafts but would then repeat the same mistakes again and again in subsequent texts. To try and avoid this, I decided to use a marking code that would allow students to know what type of error they had made but would not give them the correct answer - they would have to find this out themselves. This therefore gave them the opportunity to practice important grammatical skills such as choosing the correct article, selecting the appropriate verb tense and using appropriate personal pronouns all within the real world context of completing a piece of their own writing. 

My dad checking out the writing as one of our special guests
Correction Practice

Before giving students back their corrected second drafts, we completed several ‘correction’ exercises on the board using sections from actual student work (after seeking students’ permission) and using the marking code so there would be no confusion for students once they received their corrected second drafts. I also took a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to any work that appeared plagiarised or completed by an older sibling. Students handing in such work were required to submit another text, written during their lunch break or after school where they had little opportunity for ‘village crowd-sourcing’. 

Yeshey and her poems
Interim Feedback as Formative Assessment

When giving students back their corrected second drafts, I also let them see their assessment rubrics including an interim overall mark presented based on their work so far. I let them know that if they wanted to improve their overall mark, they would need to do well in their ‘second correction’ and ‘presentation’ elements of the project. 

The Conference in Action

The Young Author’s Conference: Presentation and Celebration

The last step in the process was for the students to write their third and final draft and publish their work by presenting it at the Young Author’s Conference. The conference itself involved setting up the students’ classrooms as exhibition galleries by arranging the tables into a nice, inviting circular shape, removing the chairs and having students stand behind their work proudly displayed on the tables in front of them. Teachers were invited to bring their classes, school leaders were invited to come and help with the marking of students’ presentation and in the case of my classes, my visiting parents and mother in law were also invited as ‘special guests’. 

Suren...proud as punch
Class VIII girls checking out the prose

Madam Tashi reading some persuasive essays
 Storytelling at its Finest

Students were encouraged to read their work to visiting teachers, principals and students and at the end of the session, I selected certain students whose work was particularly well suited to being read aloud, to read their work to the whole group. The students loved this so much that I am now planning to give a chance to the other students to also read their work to the rest of the class at a later date.

As for the young authors, these students got a huge buzz out of having so many people, especially their peers and some special guests, read and comment on their work. As they had been allowed to choose their own topic and level of difficulty, and had been given lots of structured support to correct and improve their work, all students were able to present something that they felt confident about and that they knew they had worked hard to perfect.

Sital reading her story, The Blind Girl, to Class VI and VII students
Chimi reading her personal essay My Late Father to students and special guests

An Authentic Space for Reading

The other students were also impressed and inspired, so much so that a colleague of mine who teaches Class III told me that all her students now want to do the same and were handing her piles of unsolicited poems and stories for her to mark so they could be presented later. “So much marking!” she told me with a laugh. I also noticed, that many of the visiting students, including the junior Class I and II classes were highly engaged in reading – or trying to read – the Class VI and VII stories. In particular I love this photo of one of my Class VII boys – not an avid reader himself – bent over totally immersed in reading one of the Class VI stories.

Tenzin, hooking in to some good old fashioned reading...

After marking the students’ presentation and second correction, I adjusted their overall mark if I thought it warranted and gave them back their work to be displayed around the classroom. Student were then asked to write a short reflection piece on the project, writing about what they felt they had learnt through the writing and editing processes, what they enjoyed most about the experience and what kinds of writing they would like to do in the future.

Other Possibilities for Extension

Other teaching opportunities that could be included in this kind of project include using peer and self assessment to triangulate overall marks and to have student type up their final drafts so that the collected texts could be presented in a single volume, copies of which could be given to the students (if affordable) and placed in the library. Particularly outstanding texts could also be forwarded to state and nationwide youth magazines for publication.

Class VII Girls


  1. Matt, this is so great! Thanks so much for posting such a detailed account-- am already trying to think of ways I can use this with some bigger kids!

  2. Thanks Dolma, hope it gets seen by a few teachers! I'm trying to incorporate it into a paper for the Multigrade Teaching conference coming up in November. Let me know if you manage to use it with your big 'uns.