... or problems? pontifications? I'm just really liking my alliteration lately, but since "postdoc" also begins with "p" I may be wearing people's patience thin. Hee. See what I accidentally did there?
So as you know I have been grading. Oh how have I! It is generally accepted that the "peer review" process of students getting into small groups to read over and critique each others' papers is an important and useful part of the composition class process. I build it into my classes in such a way that my students take it seriously and look like they are working hard at it. And then I see the results and despair that they are actually getting anything from it.
How can you comment usefully on someone else's paper when you yourself are almost completely incapable of writing one? Yes, I know that they are learning important things that are not directly related to producing quality essays: to wit, that a comp class is all about practice and familiarity and that they are getting models of student prose and practicing evaluating it, as well as modeling the process of being self-reflective aware writers and we hope that this process will eventually be internalized in relation to their own papers, but still it is hard to look at a crap paper with almost no comments on it except for a few "good!" and "I liked this paragraph" and "maybe this is to short bc it is only 2 pages lol" and some random squiggly underlines. Le sigh.
And it is true that quite a few of them have already had some harsh object lessons about consequences and the importance of taking detailed instructions seriously. Peer review is often a good push to get the nonserious students out of the class, the ones who only show up half the time and were probably on their way to drop anyway, and a Look of Death plus sending them home for not having their papers or returning their peer evaluations can do a lot to thin the herd. Unfortunately I still have a few (all dudes with 'tudes) that turned in about a page and a half of lol-speak that doesn't fulfill the assignment any way. My time is a precious commodity and my struggling but eager students will suck it all up; I'd rather have the lost kids drop before the paper is in and give me that much more breathing room.
(Btw, why is it some students turn in stuff that is so clearly not trying? Are they afraid they will be good at school? Are they afraid they are not good at school and therefore want to protect themselves by pre-emptively writing crap that they can turn into a big joke later? Maybe they are ambivalent about being in college or about somehow betraying their family by going to college --- I certainly have a lot of first-gen students here and could see at least some of them getting hassled rather than supported by their parents. I just keep thinking if I could figure out what was driving them, I (we?) could figure out how to get through to them.)
Anyways I blew through the peer reviews today and wondered if I should shift them from revision to editing ---- they can't find a thesis in someone else's paper (why do they all keep marking the first sentence of the essay? is some high school teacher explaining that is where you put it?), but they can do pretty good at suggesting a title, formatting fixes, grammar mistakes, the occasional missing topic sentence, stuff like that. Of course, I am trying to reinforce the notion that revision is bigger and more important than editing, but that then leads to worksheets that are empty or that say nothing even when they are filled out and not very much useful for students to work with. Hmm.
And then there is the issue of groupings ---- do you have the blind lead the blind or put the blind with the one-eyed? Do you spread out the problem students or leave them all to sink in one group? I was hoping to have the stronger students be shining examples for the weaker ones this time around, but then you have the problem where the weaker student population and the slacker/flakey population overlap and suddenly each group has only half the number of responses to turn in with the final paper. The whole logistics of getting students to take stuff home and then bring it back and give it to someone else is just a nightmare, too.
What do you all do with peer review groups? Any magic tips that will instantly, painlessly make students into good writers with the magic of peer review? Please?