Readings, and Related Inspirations

What I Learn by Asking About WorkShops

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Over the last 2 weeks, I have been work-shopping papers with my students.

It works like this:

As you can see, the students are split into 3 teams of approximately 6-7 students each. They meet with me and their team once per week for 2 weeks, and then they have fall break. Over those two weeks, they are to accomplish 4 tasks:

1. Present their ideas in some kind of outline or brainstorming fashion so we can give them arrangement feedback before they begin to write.

2. Write the paper and trade with their teammates.

3. Read teammate papers and give constructive feedback.

4. Rewrite and repeat over the holiday.

The whole process usually goes rather well because we practice feedback on earlier papers, and because I hold my students to the ‘don’t be jerk’ principle, which basically says, “pull your own weight in your group and all will go well” – the philosophy is that if everyone works hard, we won’t be left with that situation where that one group member does little but gains a lot. Somehow – it works almost every time.

Today, we met back as a whole class and I asked for their feedback.

Below are my more interesting findings:

  • Students love love love reading each others paper to see how they stack up. It gives them a sense that their writing isn’t as bad as they thought, and in some cases, is quite a lot better than they thought.
  • Students will hold each other to working standards as long as I do. When I implement the ‘don’t be a jerk’ policy, they carry it through quote well.
  • Students used google docs, and google hangout to share and meet. They prefer the ease of new media to meet because it cuts down on travel time for students who commute to campus.
  • No matter how much I try to sell it, students (not even the best and brightest) are not going to share drafts over Thanksgiving Break. They may start out with good intentions to do this, but they simply won’t. This is a fantasy I will harbor until my death.

What I found most interesting today, is that my students all found value in peer review. I guaranteed them that these skills will transfer. I told them that the rest of their life is going to be made up of different types of group work. Maybe I’m just getting better at this job, but they’re buying it.

I think this one might stick with them. And that makes me warm inside, despite the chilly Fall weather we’ve been having.


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