Before the Grade

by Kimberlee Gillis-Bridges

Peer Review:  In pairs or groups of three, students read each other’s drafts and comment.  Both the reader and writer can be anonymous, or students can put their names on the drafts they read/write.  To help guide the respondents, the writer can attach a sheet to her draft posing questions for the reader.  Or you may provide a holistic response sheet or write two or three general questions on the board.

Writing Clinic:  Excerpt pieces from various student papers, reproducing them for the whole class.  Alternatively, you can copy one or two complete papers.  Writers’ names should not appear on the copies.  The class discusses the paper(s), either in small groups or as a whole.

Draft Conference:  Students schedule time with you to discuss their paper drafts (this strategy works particularly well with research papers).  You may cancel class sessions for this purpose.  Class members can turn in their drafts the day before the conference, or  you can read them during the conference, giving the students a model paper, MLA format guidelines, etc., to look at while you read.

Writing Workshop:  Students submit copies of their drafts for the whole class or a small group to review.  They can either bring the copies to class or turn them in ahead of time (at a box outside of your office, the department office, or via an electronic bulletin board).  To give the writer some guidance, you may direct the discussion and respond more positively to some suggestions than to others.  However, it is useful for the writer to get a sense of his audience by hearing different comments and sorting through them.  It is not necessary that the respondents come to a consensus.     

Before conducting a workshop, decide on a format for the class.  Depending on the size of the class and the length of the drafts, you might meet with the whole group; split the class in halves and meet with each half separately; work with one small workshop group, letting the rest of the class do a peer review session; do a workshop for half the class on one assignment and the other half on the next one; or split the class into small workshop groups for part of the period, asking each writer to review the most helpful comment she received during the last ten minutes of the session.  Try varying the format, moving from a more teacher-directed approach at the beginning of the term to a student-centered format at the end.  

Tell the students what to look for as they read.  You may ask them to come prepared to discuss each paper’s main strength and to offer a constructive suggestion for improvement.  The writer may want to ask questions of his reader, or you might give students a guidesheet.  No matter what you do, remember to talk about criteria for the assignment both before and throughout the workshop session.  One effective method is to ask students to come up with their own standards for a particular type of essay.  You can then write their ideas on the board before the workshop or use them in a guidesheet.

During the discussion of each draft, focus on the content, purpose, organization and development of ideas.  Make sure everyone participates, but allow for silent thinking time, especially with developmental-level and international students.  Monitor the pace to help prevent the discussion from becoming bogged down or redundant.  You may assign a student timekeeper who gives a two-minute warning before the end of the time limit for each paper. 

To get feedback on the workshop process, have the class "quickwrite" for five minutes about what helped them most/least and what suggestions they have for improvement. 

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