What a great class today! My students have their outline for their paper due today. Their assignment was to bring in two copies of their outline for peer review. They had previously submitted their theses and thus I grouped the students by related topics. This was done so that they might benefit from the ideas and quotes presented by their peers. I then gave them prompts for how I wanted them to give feedback to each other regarding their outlines. Here are the prompts I gave them:
- Rewrite their thesis in your own words
- Would you describe the thesis as overly broad? overly specific? vague? controversial?
- If the answer is yes to any of the previous questions, how can the thesis be improved?
- Write one sentence per paragraph talking about each paragraph
- Write briefly about how each paragraph will support the thesis
- Rank each paragraph on how strongly they support the thesis
- Are any of the paragraphs superfluous?
- Can you think of anything missing from the paper? (A good quote for example)
I gave these prompts because the last time we did peer review I found that most of the comments the students gave each other were things like, “good job” and “I like your paper.” Comments that don’t help their peers become better writers.
The students then worked diligently on reading and responding to each others’ theses. This went on for most of the class period. With about 15 or 20 minutes of time left in class I noticed that a number of students were clearly done with the task. I had all of the teams who were finished come to the other side of the room and we had an impromptu discussion. I began by giving them the generic prompt of defining the liberal arts or what it means to get a liberal education. The students discussed this for a bit when one student said something on the order of,
I think school is an inefficient waste of time. Why do we spend four years learning extraneous things when we could finish with what is important in two? The only purpose is the degree anyway.
I immediately refocused our discussion on this comment. I didn’t want the students to think there was a right answer, so I removed myself from the discussion and let them talk on their own. I made it seem like I was going to check on the teams still doing peer review so I had an excuse to leave the discussion. After checking in with the peer review teams, who were working diligently, I sat down and admired my classroom. Half of my students were in small groups diligently peer reviewing outlines of their classmates and having great conversations about how to improve their papers. The other half was in a lively large group discussion about the purpose of higher education. All of this without me present in their conversations. I marveled at how well my students were engaged in their activities and how I could have two completely activities for my students to be doing in class based on their individual needs. To put it nerdily, *ding* I just leveled up as a professor. I always strive to individualize each student’s education as much as I can. Each student has different needs, goals, and interests. The more that I can address on a personal level for each student, the better their education. My next goal will be to attempt to have three simultaneous groups. The difficulty is keeping each group’s engagement in their activity, especially when I am not present.
Some notes that should be made.
- I have honors students. I don’t know how successful this would be with non-honors students.
- We have been spending time discussing what makes a good discussion and what are things they can do to improve their discussion techniques.
- Our FYS topic revolves around education. This made the side discussion very easy to seem “on topic” with what our class is doing and not just something to fill the time.