Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Prompting Effective Peer Review: When Less is More

by Steffanie Triller Fry 

When filling out their course evaluations for School for New Learning writing courses, students regularly rave about peer review. Next to written feedback from instructors, students report that feedback from their peers is one of the best aspects of the course.  

However, course evaluations also show that while many students adore peer review, there are always a few students each quarter who simply abhor it. One of my students in a recent Writing to Competence course went so far as to write a persuasive problem-solution letter that explained why SNL, as an open-enrollment college, should ban peer review from its classrooms. Her primary criticism was that since adult SNL students “move at their own pace,”(DePaul University) and since many incoming students struggle with proper English mechanics, then students who take SNL courses are not well equipped to “pass judgment” on one another’s work. She admitted that she felt the feedback that she gave to her classmates was inadequate.

This same student, however, appreciated small, targeted peer review activities. She enjoyed offering one of her sentences up to her classmates for rewrites. She enjoyed peer review that was minimal, specific, and prompted. She did not like peer review that dealt with her paper as a whole, but she did like peer review that functioned more like an individual assignment: reverse outline one of your classmates’ paragraphs; rewrite one sentence that a classmate is struggling with; identify the thesis statement and topic sentences in this paper.

Composition scholar Nancy Sommers has explained that, when revising, students struggle to manage the “whole essay.” Though they may have tools and strategies for managing and revising words, phrases, and sentences, they find themselves unable to look at global revisions, such as overall essay organization and coherence with the main idea (383). It stands to reason that if students struggle to recognize the necessary global revisions in their own work, then they also struggle to suggest these revisions in the work of their classmates. So, peer review can leave a student feeling inadequate and unfulfilled, as it did to my student who usually provided a few grammar comments on her classmates’ essays and called it a day.

To combat these feelings of inadequacy and teach students to provide targeted and effective peer reviews, instructors should provide prompts for peer review that offer a specialized and directed focus.  Eli Review has designed a module full of just such prompts complete with the rationale behind them. This module is called “Designing Effective Reviews.” It suggests that we assign students “smaller, swifter reviews” focused on “specific, granular goals” (McLeod, Hart-Davidson, and Grabill).  

At the end of the day, peer review is just another assignment that students complete. They do not arrive in our classes any more prepared to complete peer review than they are prepared to complete any other assignment. And as with any assignment, the more we break peer review down into its component parts, the more useful students will find it. Teaching students how to review others’ work by prompting them with small, specific tasks gives them the confidence and the language that they need in order to serve as effective readers of their classmates’ work.  

As managers and employees themselves, many SNL students already conduct evaluations of employees and are evaluated regularly by their employers. “Inside and out of the classroom, offering helpful feedback is an important leadership skill. Teachers, consultants, and managers spend much of their day offering feedback to help others learn and thrive in their work” (McLeod, Hart-Davidson, and Grabill). As instructors, it becomes our job to break down this task for students and to give them the skills that they need in order to become effective leaders in their own right, both within the classroom and without.

It turns out that my Writing to Competence student who detested peer review was wonderful at revising her own work. From draft to draft, her essays grew in style and specificity. They became less writer-centered and more reader-centered. The same was true of her peer review group-mates: even the ones who sometimes struggled with word order and word choice wrote more readable and more elegant final drafts. I like to think that, even if she didn’t realize it, peer review did have an impact on my student’s work after all.

For more help teaching writing in any course, consider enrolling in SNL's professional development course, Teaching with Writing in Any Course. The 6-module course is taught completely online and the next section begins on April 13, 2015. Email snlwriting@depaul.edu to register.

Works Cited

SNL Writing Showcase 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

Promoting the Teaching with Writing online course

                             DePaul University – School for New Learning

Teaching with Writing in Any Course: An SNL Professional Development Course

To reserve your place, please email snlwriting@depaul.edu

Course Location:  Online

Section Five: 4/13/15 – 5/24/15

Steffanie Triller Fry
Writing Instructor
Phone: 312-362-7631

Course Description:
This online course (six-modules) for teachers in any discipline focuses on making the most of writing as a tool for teaching and learning in undergraduate and graduate courses. In the course, teachers will explore practical ideas for in-class writing assignments that initiate discussions and provide quick input regarding student learning. Teachers will also learn strategies for developing assignments and providing feedback while maximizing efficiency and minimizing frustration. Opportunities to share ideas and receive coaching on current writing assignments and ways of giving feedback are included. This course does not have prerequisites; however, those taking it should have undergraduate or graduate courses that they wish to develop or revise and experience teaching at the college level that they can draw upon for discussions.

What Prior Participants Have Said:
“The mathematician Paul Erdös spent much of his life essentially homeless, staying with one colleague after another, arriving on a doorstep unannounced, ready to collaborate, saying, “My brain is open.”   People who take this course should arrive at it with their brains open. Be prepared to be surprised by how many things you’re already doing right, how many others you’re doing that can hamper students’ progress, and best of all, how many genuinely useful ideas and techniques you will learn from the readings and from your classmates.” – Carolyn Allen
“Be honest about the fact that all of us can still learn -- even if we have been teaching for many, many years. People have to be open to new ideas and willing to share their flaws as well as their strengths.” – Jane Wagoner
“First, take it! Do plan your schedules so you can delve into the assignments--they prompt reflection and imagination. Post your assignments early enough in the week so you can get the advantage of feedback from others.” – Catherine Marienau
“Be prepared to spend a good amount of time on the course, but it is truly worth the time. If you are debating about taking the course seriously consider changing your schedule so you can. It will make teaching easier and more rewarding.” – Barbara Donnelly
“Like any online class, keep up and read a little at a time.   Trying to read everyone's posts and write your own all at once is a little overwhelming and you will miss a lot of the benefit if you can't read your classmates' posts.” – Liz Leavy
 “Take it!  I would advise future students to have a particular course in mind that they would like to revise or improve upon and to use that course as the focus in the class.” – Cynthia Milsap
“My only advice is to keep up with the readings.   Maybe, create your own Idea Log -- to list good ideas from the readings and from postings by classmates. There is so much great info each week and it goes by so fast." – Pat Szczerba
“Don’t underestimate the time it will take to complete the modules.” – Kenya Grooms
 “Make a commitment to the course--the time, the sharing, the analysis of your own work.” – Rebecca Russell
“I will say, pace yourself, a lot of reading and discussion participation, and be open to changing the way you teach.  I know my concern about this class was that it was going to require me to increase my time teaching and grading.  However, much to my surprise, if I change a few things, I may be able to help my students improve their writing without increasing my workload.” – Lu Rocha

Learning Strategies & Learning Resources: This online class will use discussions, peer collaboration, readings, videos and a variety of forms of feedback as learners practice applying what they are learning to their teaching.

Required Text (will be provided free to participants):
Gottschlak, Katherine and Keith Hjortshoj. The Elements of Teaching Writing: A Resource for Instructors in All Disciplines. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004.
Additional selected readings will be available online.

All assignments and discussions in this course will be marked complete or incomplete at the end of each module. There are 14 discussions and 2 assignments in the course, and all must be completed to earn the course completion certificate.

Course Schedule:
Module One: “Why can’t they write?” and other perennial questions about student writers
?         Have an overview of research findings that address common questions about and frustrations with student writing
?         Understand how this course will answer questions and give teachers in a variety of disciplines strategies for working with student writing in their courses
?         Try low-stakes writing assignments
  • “Introduction” (pages 1-11) in The Elements of Teaching Writing: A Resource for Instructors in All Disciplines
  • Write or Die (http://writeordie.com/#Web+App)
  • Discussion 1.1: Introductions and Being a Beginner
  • Discussion 1.2: Experiencing Freewriting and Responding to the Readings
  • Assignment 1.3: Muddiest Point
Module Two: Using Writing for Teaching and Learning
Examine assumptions about having to choose between teaching content and teaching writing
Understand what low-stakes writing is and why it is useful
?         Identify at least two low-stakes writing assignments that you can use in a course
?         Chapter 1, “Integrating Writing and Learning in your Course Design” in The Elements
?         View “Classroom Assessment Technique: Muddiest Point” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvT6RmuZigw
?         Chapter 5, “Informal and Preparatory Writing” in The Elements, pages 76-84
?         “Low-Stakes Writing Assignments” on the SNL Writing Resources Wiki at https://snlwriting.pbworks.com/w/page/55496216/Low-Stakes%20Writing%20Assignments
?         Discussion 2.1: Writing vs. Content
?         Discussion 2.2: Low-stakes Writing

Module Three: Course Design and Assignment Sequencing
Identify writing assignments that are aligned with course learning goals
?         Sequence writing assignments to support student learning
?         “The Complexity of Research Writing: What Teachers Should Appreciate About Students’ Difficulties with Term Papers” from John C. Bean’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom
?         Chapter 7 in The Elements
?         View “Alternatives to Term Papers” (http://www.lawrence.edu/library/instruct/alternatives.shtml) from Lawrence University.
?         Read pages 40-46 in The Elements
?         Discussion 3.1: Identifying course learning goals
?         Discussion 3.2: Research papers
?         Discussion 3.3: Sequencing assignments

Module Four: Assignment Design


?         Evaluate what students need to know to complete an assignment and can provide scaffolding when necessary
?         Design or redesign assignments that target desired learning and set students up for success
?         Use revision to support student learning
?         Pages 29-40 in The Elements
?         Pages 62-72 in The Elements
?         Assignment 4.1: Drafting an Assignment
?         Discussion 4.2: Peer Revising Draft Assignments
?         Discussion 4.3: Assigning Revision

Module Five: Feedback that Support Student Learning (and Does Not Take All of Your Time)
?         Understand the importance of feedback for student learning and have a variety of strategies for providing feedback
?         Understand why editing student papers helps no one and have strategies for responding to student papers with many errors
?         Provide feedback on student papers that promotes learning
?         View “Beyond the Red Ink: Students Talk about Teachers’ Comments”
?         Chapter 3 in The Elements
?         Chapter 6 in The Elements
?         Pages 72-75 on “Methods for Structuring Peer Revision” in The Elements
?         View “No One Writes Alone: Peer Review in the Classroom, A Guide for Students”
?         Discussion 5.1: Response to the Readings
?         Discussion 5.2: Practicing
?         Discussion 5.3:  Your Feedback Plan

Module 6: What’s next?
Know about resources available for continuing to learn about working with student writing
?         Have a plan for continuing to experiment with using writing for teaching and learning
?         Read Chapter 10 in The Elements
?         Discussion 6.1: Your Plan
?         Discussion 6.2: Making a Date

About the Instructor:

Steffanie Triller Fry has taught in college writing classrooms for over ten years. She has served as Writing Instructor and Writing Program Administrator at DePaul University's School for New Learning for more than half of that time. She received her M.A. in Literature from DePaul University and will receive her M.F.A. in creative writing from Lesley University in the summer of 2015. Her writing has earned her a Vincentian Endowment Fund Grant, a Steans Community-based Research Faculty Fellowship, and a DePaul TLA Assessment of Student Learning grant. For more about her current projects, see https://depaul.digication.com/steffanie_the_writing_instructor.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How Your Travels Around The Internet Expose The Way You Think

Metacognition (Noun): Awareness and understanding of one's own thought processes.We engage in Metacognition activities everyday. This enables us to be successful learners and has been associated with intelligence.

Please click How Your Travels Around the Internet Expose the Way You Think to read an interesting article on metacognition from Wired magazine.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

SNL Writing Boot Camps – Winter 2015

Students that need help with a project or essay can come to an SNL Writing Boot Camp at one of the campuses:

-Oak Forest & Naperville – Saturday, 2/28
-Loop – Wednesday, 3/4 & Saturday, 3/14
-O'Hare – Saturday, 3/7

For more information or to RSVP, email snlevents@depaul.edu.