Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Peer Evaluations: ENG 101

Justin Rogers-Cooper

Bloom's Taxonomy: analyzing, evaluating, creating

Class Activity

This past weekend my ENG 101 Ethics of Food (EF) and my ENG 101 Language and Human Rights (LHR) students evaluated each other's blogs. They had already practiced evaluating each other's blogs on two previous occasions. I posted about this the first time and felt disappointed by the results, both in terms of participation and outcome. I received wise counsel from this Community 2.0 network, and I decided to be patient and continue working toward these cross-class peer evaluations.

The task for the cross-class evaluation was to reproduce the kinds of evaluation that both classes practiced in previous class blog reviews, as well as in out-of-class essay peer reviews. The terms of evaluation were quite familiar to the students by now: argument, topic sentence, unified paragraph, quotation, citation, paraphrase, critical thinking, context, and directions (I define directions as the writer's technique of communiciating to the reader what is actually happening in their writing, such as, "In his blog I will discuss," or, "first I will discuss this and then I will discuss that"). I have been instructing them all along to respond to each other through the lens of these specific techniques and skills.

I left both classes directions on the main course blogs, and then paired the students up somewhat randomally with students from the other class. I left them with a name and a link. I told both classes that the assignment would detect their ability to communicate with a general audience. Would they be able to explain their ideas, their texts, and their course to an outside party? I have often discussed this "general audience" alongside the specific audience of their peers and myself, particularly on blogs.

How It Went

This went much better than I thought it would. Students worked hard to provide this "general audience" with an idea of their writing. Students left evaluations that tactfully used the writing skills and techniques we've been rehearsing in class discussion, peer review, and previous blog comments.

For example, a LHR student left an evaluation of an EF student that was longer than the blog (see here). Another LHR student expressed relief to finally see what the "other class" was learning about (here). Two of the LHR students left specific suggestions about how to revise an EF student's blog (here). We have practiced in both classes how critiques must always be followed by specific suggestions that give the writer something practical to do; in this case, the student suggests that the writer "introduce the the text by directing the reader to the context and therefore the use of quotation and citation would be very effective." Some of the comments were quite constructive with their criticism (here). There is actually too much to discuss in the little space of this blog.

From the other side, the EF students also provided good comments, although the participation in this class was less than ideal (this has been a problem class for me all semester). Nonetheless, many of the comments were specific and thorough (here). In some cases, the EF students made comments directly upon the key ideas that individual LHR students were using for their second essays; this kind of criticism becomes very valuable, then, for this reason (here). Some students were quite attentative to the idea of directions mentioned earlier (here). Again, there are too many examples to discuss individually in this blog.

Conclusion

Both classes received valuable constructive criticism from students in the other class. This activity showed me that both classes can use their knowledge of writing techniques and structures to comment upon content from a completely different course. This means that they understand the difference between those skills and simply having an opinion about content. It also means that they're internalizing those skills to a point where they feel confident enough critiquing other students. This gives me a great deal of information as an instructor.

There are few nuts and bolts issues I'd change: I provided links to student blog pages, but I should have provided links to specific blogs. There was some confusion, even though in my directions I told the students to look for the mention of specific texts to identify the correct blog. This extra step was redundant. I never would have known to go that extra step, however, because I've never done this before.

Finally, I'm going to provide time in-class for students to revise their blogs based on the comments they've received. I've explained to both classes that I will assess their blogs at the end of the semester using a different rubric than the one I've used so far. At the end, I will evaluate for polish and revision, whereas so far I have a rubric that evaluates how closely their blogs align with the assignment.

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