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Friday, January 20, 2012

Having students reflect on their writing

Classes started here on Wednesday so I've been working hard the last couple weeks to re-vamp my syllabi while also trying to get at least a little bit of research work done. I'll be teaching the writing class again and instead of using SWoRD, I'm planning to have students do their peer reviews using Turnitin's PeerMark system. I used PeerMark in the fall with my Econ for Teachers class and while it doesn't have SWoRD's fancy algorithm for converting reviewing scores into grades, there are a lot of things about the interface that I like. I can still require that they give both numeric scores and qualitative comments, and I can grade those reviews plus the integration with Blackboard also means I have full control over when assignments become available, can set exact due dates and times, and can even set 'adaptive release' criteria (so, for example, I can require students to view a tutorial on giving good feedback before they can access their first set of papers to review). Reviewers can also highlight things in the papers directly, and attach notes to those specific points in the paper (rather than having to say things like, "The second sentence of the third paragraph on page two is confusing").

One sort of new thing I'm trying this time around is having students write 'reflective memos' after they turn in their final draft. I say 'sort of new' because in the past, I have had students do an in-class evaluation after each assignment, where I've asked them "What has one thing you learned from the reviews you received from your classmates that you can use in the future either to improve your own writing or to be a more helpful reviewer for others?" and "What has one thing you learned from being a reviewer that you can use in the future either to improve your own writing or to be a more helpful reviewer for others?". Depending on the assignment, I'd also ask them what the most challenging aspect of the assignment was. This semester, rather than having students do these evaluations in class, I'm going to have them write a 'reflective memo' which will be due a couple days after the final draft. The instructions for the memo ask them to answer similar questions but will give them more time to think about and write out their answers. The second half of the memo will also ask them to evaluate the reviews they received (similar to the back evaluations in SWoRD) and I will use that input to grade the reviewers (though I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to do that yet).

I got the idea for the reflective memo from a post by Traci Gardner, who wrote a lesson plan about using draft letters (and a Faculty Focus post discussed a similar idea, interactive cover letters, a few months ago). Those examples have students turning in the letters at the same time as the paper. I thought about that but I worry that students would not give the reflection the time it deserves. Call me cynical but I am imagining a lot of students finishing their papers about five minutes before the deadline. While it might be that they would finish earlier so they would also have time to write the reflection (certainly I know that some students would), it isn't clear to me that it matters a lot whether the reflection letter is done before or after they turn in the assignment. I suppose some students could have a "now that I've turned it in, I don't want to think about it anymore" attitude, but we'll see.

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