Mardie alerted me to your discussion since I've been AWOL from the Ning lately. I have read Jim Vopat's book and love it. I used a combination of Writing Circles, quick writes (thanks, Penny Kittle), and formal essay assignments last year. My students really like the writing circle approach since it allows them so much choice. Our circles met once a week, and I assigned quick writes twice a week. I like Vopat's ideas for responding to one another's writing but need more, which I'll be working on next year. I think students aren't as familiar w/ the various genres as we might think they are. Many students default to what they think the teacher wants. I'll be working on that, especially since I assign a multigenre research paper. I also think it's really important to continue introducing students to good mentor texts, which I'm planning to connect more to writing circles. I also think I need to do more to help my students find topics. Some groups had trouble thinking about topics, which is really my fault for not reminding them to come to class w/ a topic.
I collected the writing notebooks (w/ writing circle responses and quick writes) at the end of the trimester. Next year I'm collecting them twice each tri. Those students who come unprepared need an immediate consequence; they can really bog things down. One of the fantastic benefits of the circles for me was joining into the student conversation and relinquishing control of their circles to them, which they found more difficult than I.
I'm also toying w/ the idea of extending the WC's to blogging. I think this would offer an excellent platform for revision.
Last year was one of the best of my long career. It was so good, in fact, that I'm worried that next year will be a big let down. Giving students choice via writing circles and Gallagher's 50/50 approach to reading increased student writing and reading in my classroom significantly. It's a win-win for students and for myself. And did I mention how easy the grading is?
Basic WC format:
1. Students meet to choose a topic, choose a first reader, and choose a timekeeper.
2. On day WCs meet, students share their writing by reading aloud to the group. Afterward, group members respond according to a predetermined response starter. For example, "I'd like to hear more about..." or "Choose a 'Golden Sentence' from each members' response." Vopat offers suggestions.
3. Choose a new topic for the next WC. Each member writes on the same topic but may choose any genre.
4. Members complete a "Writing Circle Think-Back," which Vopat provides. This is a self-reflection as well as a group reflection form. These go into the WC notebooks.
I can't wait to try this in my own classroom!!