Conducting Face-to-Face Peer Response Sessions
There are a few additional tips that can help to make peer response sessions more productive in the face-to-face classroom*:
- Have students read one paper at a time and discuss it before moving onto the next paper. Otherwise, students may try to read all the papers of the group at once and write down feedback, but then have forgotten some of what they read when they go back to discuss each paper.
- Group size and selection has to be considered carefully given the amount of time available for the activity and the length of the paper being discussed. The teacher has to decide between more intimate one-on-one pairings where some students may feel more comfortable talking, or larger groups with more voices giving feedback. If the paper is very long and not much time is available, it may seem that pairings are all that is possible. However, larger groups can be instructed to read the first half of the paper only and discuss it. In fact, if a larger peer response group seems to be moving too slowly, this is a technique that can allow them to give some feedback on everyone's papers.
- Students in peer response groups are often not the best at managing their time. Some hurry through. Others can take too long on one students paper and not give enough to another. Let students know up front about how long they should spend reading and responding to each individual paper, and give them a couple of updates during the process to let them know how much time is left. Also ask the student groups to keep time themselves.
- Some groups may finish responding to each others papers well before other groups. To keep all groups productive, it can be helpful to have an extra sample paper for a group to discuss and respond to if they have already responded to their peers in the group. If students know that you are going to keep them busy responding to writing, that also eliminates the tendency some groups may have of wanting to finish quickly so that they can goof off or do something else (e.g. work for another class). Or if the class has posted their papers online, have the groups that finish early discuss someone's paper that is not in the group.
- Having the writers read their papers out loud is an old trick for helping them to find errors or awkward sentences. Our brain processes things differently when we hear our writing than when reading to ourselves. But this technique can also add a little energy to the classroom (gets very noisy!). It can get groups used to lots of conversing. And it can simply add some variance to previous response activities to increase student engagement.
The Teachers Role During Workshop Activities
While students are workshopping their drafts in groups, it can be good for the teacher to float around the room and visit the groups as an observer for a few minutes here, a few minutes there. However, be wary of pushing them too hard to stay on task. Some amount of off topic communication has been shown to be good for productivity with group dynamics.
And be wary of taking over the group; you don't want to undermine the collaborative activity. Try to stimulate the conversation rather than making yourself the leader and center of attention. Asking questions of group members which gets them talking can be a good way to do this. If a student asks you a question, you might answer it, but redirect it back to the group and let them take a stab at it before you do.