Friday, May 11, 2018

In the Classroom: The Power of Peer Critiques

I’m in a critique group that meets twice a month at a library in the next town. At each meeting, four people read up to eight pages of a work-in-progress and receive feedback from the rest of the group.
Sharing manuscripts with my critique group is a critical part of my writing process because my buddy editors see a whole range of problems that I’m blind to. When I bring them a manuscript, I think it’s pretty much perfect. I’ve taken it as far as I can on my own. I know it’s time to share it with other people and see what happens.

But I’m not sharing my writing with just anyone. I’m sharing it with a small group of fellow children’s authors who I’ve known for 16 years. I trust these people. I know they’ll be kind, but honest. I may not always agree with their comments, but I know it will help me and my manuscript if I listen closely and consider their thoughts carefully.

When I do school visits, I always ask students if buddy editing/peer critiquing/writing partners is part of their process. If not, I urge them (and their teachers) to give it a try. If so, we discuss some of the problems a peer might help us identify. Most of the time, their list is nearly identical to mine.

They tell us:
—when we’ve left out important details

—when we’ve included extraneous information

—when the text structure or voice or point of view doesn’t work

—when an explanation doesn’t make sense and a comparison might help

—when we should hunt for stronger verbs

—when the beginning doesn’t hook the reader

—when the ending falls flat (my personal weakness)

I can’t imagine sending a piece to my editor without the input of my critique groups, and I think the same should be true for young writers. We are so close to our writing that we really need another set of eyes to help us see the weaknesses in our early drafts.

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