• Students will apply criteria for a good summary to other students’ work (applying)
• Students will evaluate summaries produced by other students (evaluating)
• Students will analyze strengths and weaknesses of summaries they read (analyzing)
• Students will be able to compare their comments to those left by classmates (evaluating)
Students in my ENG 99 class were paired with students from the ENG 99 classes of Dr. Gallardo and Dr. Smith. Students in all these classes use the same open platform (blogger) and have enabled comments by registered users, so it would be possible for them to offer feedback to each other in asynchronous mode. I created a table with my students’ names on one side and the links to the actual blog post they would on which they would comment on the other side. Each of the paired posts would eventually get two comments from my students; the pragmatic reason for that was that there were few posts than I had students in a single section. However, there were enough students across all sections taught by Drs. Gallardo and Smith for me to have assigned each student a different post. I chose the option of having two of my students assigned to each post because at the end of the exercise I wanted them to be able to see that another classmates responded to the assignment differently and I wanted to use that for the subsequent lesson. During the activity students looked at summaries of “The Allegory of The Cave” and had to answer a series of questions (such as “is there a thesis,” “is there personal opinion” etc) and then provide a summative paragraph on the strengths and weaknesses of the prose they read. In my directions I asked them to treat these students as they would want somebody to respond to their own work, and to provide some context for what they did.
Students were, to an amazing degree, able to apply the criteria of the summary evaluation to the other students’ posts, and that extended even to students who were not able to do so in their own summaries. Since that is one of the premises on which peer review is based, that was very successful. When it came to providing a context for the activity or offering some civil interaction with the other student, however, there was only partial success. Some students did go out of their way, such as the following students statement: “ It is my assignment to do in class so please don’t take anything I critize [sic]the wrong way. Just take it as a step forward of improving your work. Again this is a learning experience for me too so just work with me lol. I’m not good at this either.” This is a student who does not simply express how they want to make this a helpful learning experience for the other student, but also demonstrate how they have already framed it as one for themselves. However there were students who offered short answers to the evaluative questions, sometimes just a series of “yes” and “no,” which will not be helpful to the person whose summary they evaluated.
In essence the activity will not conclude until students go back and read each others’ comments, which will not happen at the next class. We will then discuss what is a useful interaction and what is a problematic one, setting up some guidelines for future encounters. Clearly interacting with other classes is not a one-off activity, and I hope that future iterations will provide better results in all areas—in fact if past experience is a guide, I have a strong belief that will be the case. This was also the first time I had my students interact with students at the same level as them, so this was also a learning experience for me as to the kind of preparation I need to conduct in the future to better assist the students.