Archive for November, 2012

Grading the Peer Review Workshop

Monday, November 26th, 2012

It is nearing the end of our ridiculously long 17-week semester at my university and so things are starting to wrap up for my English 358 Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class. They have written a professional narrative, completed a job packet, learned how to write a professional email, composed a literary analysis for non-literature majors, wrote a proposal, and completed a final project that they created from a previous assignment in a class from their major (or working on finishing that last project up). Now all that really remains is the finishing up and grading with the latter primarily being up to me, right? More or less, yes.

I do give students the opportunity to grade themselves, however. Peer Review is one of those areas where they do get a chance to grade themselves and those in their peer review group. I do this because I handle Peer Review in a relatively hands off way, especially as the semester goes on. When they first start out with peer review, I usually go around to each group and help them along by giving them prompts, questions, and other topics regarding writing to consider in the group discussions. I do this during the second peer review, but it is less in-depth than the first time. After that, I have noticed they kind of want me to leave them alone, unless they are having problems or have questions or want my feedback about something.

While I think peer review goes well for the most part since I do get good feedback about it from students, there remains the problem of grading it. I think students should always get points for something like this since they do put a fair amount of time into it. But since I treat this activity as fairly hands off, I don’t feel I am the one who can adequately assess their work without their input. So to gain their input I could do a number of things, some of which I have done before:

  • Grade them during each individual peer review. Each peer review would earn them, let’s say, 10 points or more. After each peer review, I would add up the points and grade them based on that. I have done this before and it works pretty well. The problem I saw with it is that students had little input and so I didn’t always notice who was sending their drafts on time and who wasn’t and this was even with the freewrite being a part of it. And I value grading as being as fair and thoughtful as possible and I didn’t feel it was happening as well as it could be here.
  • Have each student compose a memo about how peer review went overall and writing about the work they did for it. This would indirectly articulate a grade that I could give them. I have never done this since I do assign a lot of smaller writing assignments at the end (reflections, cover letters, memos) and had trouble imagining an extra piece of writing. Plus, as a graduate student, I have to think carefully about the work I can do at the end of the semester.
  • I have used conferences as a way to grade peer review. Each group would meet with me, talk about what went well, what didn’t, and everyone would be graded on this feedback. Usually people ended up with similar grades unless their participation was low.
  • Have them fill out a rubric for each peer review group member, including themselves, and give each person, along with themselves, a grade based upon the entire semester’s work.

The final bullet point is how I chose to grade them this time for peer review, which I also used last semester. With the rubric, I give them two criteria they can use to grade each other, though they can also as a group create their own, though most just go with what I have given them since it is pretty standard for peer review work. They then get into their groups and either agree with this criteria, or create new criteria, and then take the rubric worksheets home to grade each other individually. Within each criteria, my instructions tell me to give me some reason for a certain grade.  That is the idea, anyway.

While this obviously isn’t a perfect system, some things work well. The students do a good job at identifying what they value in their peer review group for grading each other, especially after I ask them to imagine the worst peer review situation and what could happen there. They also are relatively honest about their own participation in group work, which I found odd at first, but now appreciate because it makes grading peer review way easier.

A problem with this method is that they tend to “fluff” the grades of their peers a little bit. The good news is that the person whose grade is being “fluffed” is usually far more honest about the work he or she did than their peers. I imagine the fluffing occurs because they just don’t want someone to be mad at them or something. And when grading, I can usually pay more attention to the grade that person gave themselves than what anyone else from the group said. Either way, what i have noticed here is interesting because it was pretty much the opposite of what I was anticipating.

Seeing this one problem always makes me want to go back to the memo style of peer review grading. Problem is at the end of the semester the last thing I want to do is assign another piece of writing. Plus, with the new final project I created for the class, they already have three smaller assignments to write, which include a cover letter, a reflection and a professional email.

My question at the end is this: how do you grade peer review? What works about it? What doesn’t? I recognize there are problems with my method for grading this, so I am really curious as to what others do.


Job Packet Assignment Reflection

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

I’ve always had students in my English 358 Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class write a resume and a cover letter in response to a job ad. I did this because of two main reasons 1. It is good practice for when they will do it in real time and 2. It fits the criteria for the course where they have learn about professional writing.

While most students appreciated the practice, they often gave me the feedback that they would have liked to spend more time on a job packet. I muddled over this for some time until I was talking with my friend Josh and he told me that he often has them write a research memo along with the job ad. The research memo basically functions as a rhetorical analysis for the cover letter and resume. The student details the job ad, what he or she could bring to the job in detail, and analyzes the audience and contexts of the job situation. To give you a better idea, here is the description I have about it from the assignment sheet:

Research the organization to learn more about the nature of its business, its values, its corporate structure, its history, its accomplishments and any other information that is relevant/helpful in the construction of the cover letter and résumé.  The student will then write a Research Memo that summarizes their research and provides a rhetorical analysis of the job posting that they are responding to.  The memo should be designed in proper memo format, and should run between two to three pages in length.  A copy of the original job posting you are responding to should be included with this document. This should be 2-3 pages, single spaced and have all the conventions of a memo.

By adding this component, I found that students did the following:

  1. They spent more time, overall, on the project. This just didn’t happen simply because I allowed more time for it, but also because of the added requirement. They realized there was a research component to it and so that made them spend more time understanding the potential audiences and contexts. I even had one of my students tell me, “yeah, I couldn’t do any of this last minute because of that research memo.” Thanks, student.
  2. They wrote better cover letters in general. One thing I had noticed previously was that the cover letters I received sounded generic. They lacked personality. They lacked real understanding of the organization or company. By having them write the research memo first, and then use that information to compose the cover letter, they had stronger, more detailed cover letters. I think the reason the cover letters came out sounding generic the first time was also because their is a specific formula that tends to work for writing cover letters and so a student may think, oh, ok, formulaic writing when really it is much more than that.
  3. Some students claimed they enjoyed writing the research memo and even said they would do it again. This shocked me, to be honest, at first because, essentially, it is extra work plus proof of that extra work. However, one student was so enthusiastic about it that she said she plans to do it when she applies for jobs in real time. I did warn her that doing so may be time-consuming, but it would be a good idea to keep notes on hand that responded in a similar way to what I had outlined. But if she had time for such a task, all the more power to her.

I would be lying if I said I still did not receive generic sounding cover letters, however. I did get a couple of those. I also did receive research memos that weren’t well done, basically because people wrote them last minute or whatever. But, looking at the results overall, the assignment seemed to go over well and students claimed they learned quite a bit from the exercise.

For this, I actually don’t have a lot of improvements in mind, if any. I have been thinking of spending greater time talking to them about the research memo and then spending a day or two talking about the cover letter and resume. Another improvement I could make is to ask for the research memo first, grade that and give some feedback, and then have them turn in the cover letter, resume with a revised research memo to make sure they understand the assignment thoroughly. I think this latter critique might make for some stronger job packet examples. This would also be a good exercise for students to complete when teaching English 320 Business and Professional Writing this spring and I do plan to teach it next semester English 320.


Literary analysis assignment (English 358, Fall 2012) reflection

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

In a previous post, I promised I would provide reflection on the changes I made to my English 358 Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class this semester. In doing this, I am working backwards with the most recent assignment reflection posted first and then will reflect on the changes to the job packet last. But in between I have the literary analysis assignment, which I briefly made mention to in the post linked above. So I will do my best to talk about the literary analysis assignment in this post, even though I am tired today and feeling that end of semester exhaustion, and so I hope what I say makes sense.

One of my English majors from my 11am class asked me why I chose to do the literary analysis assignment in 358. I didn’t really find that an odd question from her because, to be frank, she seemed bored throughout the three weeks I taught it, mostly because she has taken a literary theory course and she is in her last semester of coursework for her BA in English. She pretty much had this information down and could have given a great mini-lesson to the class on Lacanian Psychoanalysis, which is an area I am not as strong in. (I know the Freudian concepts much better, mainly because that is how I have usually approached it and I am not a Lacan kid).

In reply, I told her I taught this for two main reasons. The first reason involved the surface level analyses I see from students in my English 358 courses. While I spend a lot of time teaching analysis, and even have a course textbook devoted to analytical writing, I still notice students are not strong with analysis in my course. I felt that by teaching a literary analysis unit for non-literature majors, would be beneficial to many students. The second reason is because I think theory is important and I had noticed that quite a few theories we teach and learn about in English overlap with theories taught in many of their majors, most notably psychoanalytic approaches, queer approaches, and Marxist approaches. While I wasn’t expecting analysis at the level that a literature major junior or senior would write, I was expecting more thoughtful, analytical discussions about the book we had read for the class using one or more of the theories I taught. And I only taught theories I felt would be appropriate to the book we were reading and theories that I felt would also be overlapping with information taught in previous classes in their majors. Most of this, I think, worked out and happened. I had a number of students tell me they “had heard of” these theories in their classes before, but most often didn’t “have to directly apply them.”

As I stated previously, my 11am section did a fantastic job applying one or more of these theories and giving good evidence and analysis. While in some cases analysis could have been stronger or more developed, everyone had a good thesis statement (or at least a good focus throughout their paper, even if their thesis remained a little weak, which is slightly unnerving to know that this still happens in a 300-level writing intensive class made up of juniors and seniors in college, some of whom are graduating). Everyone in this section of the course also knew how to apply these theories to a text and used their theories effectively. While I cannot say the same for my 12pm section (one student actually started to write a freshmen level rhetorical analysis halfway into his paper), those students did all right, too. Like 11am, they also understood the theory they chose and knew at least some ways to apply it to the text, at the very least.

I do have a few criticisms of this particular unit, however. One criticism is that it is a very time-consuming unit for me as a teacher of two classes and also a student finishing up the last year of my PhD coursework. I not only had to read the novel for the class, I had to do a lot of preparation to find resources to help students not only understand the theories, but engage with them as a class. To do this, I had them read a selected Grimm’s Fairy tales, and one that had been adapted by Disney to better familiarize them, and had them in groups each day analyze that story through the theory we had looked at for that class day. For example, I had them analyze Pinocchio through Queer theory, as well as look at the He-Man intro and how that had been re-conceptualized through a Queer reading in this video. I also had them look at Cinderella through a feminist lens in groups during the class period devoted to feminist analysis. So with these exercises, I felt they had a good amount of practice in analyzing each theory.

Another criticism is, of course, some students just didn’t leave the surface level analysis and honestly, I was kind of expecting this from some of them. And it isn’t always because they don’t know it, as during our class exercises, these students said really smart things about the texts we were analyzing. They just didn’t seem to want to do it in their paper or decided to write their paper last minute (even though I required drafts of this assignment) or whatever it was. They just didn’t want to do it and I will admit that was a little frustrating, especially because I had seen them do it before. And every teacher I have ever talked to has told me about his or her struggles with getting students to actually do something we all know they can do.

When I teach this again, I am considering having students in groups give a presentation on a theory they select or are assigned and then try to teach a lesson to the class regarding that theory. Since I have so many Education majors, I think this could be a fun lesson for them to do and would give them teaching practice, even if it is teaching practice on their peers. And I could split them up so there would be a couple education majors in each group so now one feels “lost” in doing this. This would also cut down on prep time for myself, which while I finish my PhD work is something I always need to consider, not because I am lazy, but for time-management purposes.

Overall, the new assignment went over well enough and I learned a few things from it. I learned that teaching any type of theory is really a lot of work. While I knew this going in, I had no idea how much work it would be and how time consuming it would be. If I were to have them write papers again, I would also ask for a proposal. I didn’t do that this time because I had already scheduled a proposal for their final projects. But I have had students write proposals for the literary analysis before (for example, in my summer section of English 358) and the proposals I noticed always helped them to better understand exactly what they were doing before they started doing it, which is always a good thing.

In the next reflection about my class this semester, I’ll post about the job packet unit, which I taught previously, but expanded. And if any of ya’ll have any advice on teaching a critical theory unit, please share. I enjoyed teaching the material, despite the criticisms I had about it. If I didn’t teach theory, I would have instead taught a Forum Analysis, which I have taught before and always seem to get good responses from students.


Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Through the blur of beer I watch a woman’s shadow

at the bar as her hand hesitates

over a phone and the voice

of the bartender interrupts whatever

each of us was thinking about in

this movement of a moment,

our almost final glass.

Reflection for poetry challenge

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Poetry Reflection—Grand Challenge

When I first decided to take the challenge to write poems in a public space where I thought people were creative, I felt a little hesitant. For one, I had never written creative writing in public before. The few times I had actually written a poem in public was when I either felt I had a good line for a poem in mind or when I was killing time as I waited for someone, so the idea of actually going to a public place to write a poem felt a little uncomfortable. I had fears that I wouldn’t be able to write anything. I felt I might look pretentious sitting there alone writing a poem in the black Moleskine notebook I carry around (and honestly, I probably do look pretentious doing that). I felt I simply wouldn’t be able to write anything I liked because when I write a poem, I tend to pace around a lot and I imagined that would look awkward in public and probably even cause some concern.

While I didn’t pace around the HoDo, I still managed to do some writing there. I was also surprised at the wide array of topics I found, images I thought about, and events I witnessed. While writing, I witnessed a lot of things happening, like a birthday party, a business meeting, a woman trying to balance work and motherhood as she talked on the phone to a business client while putting a coat on her daughter, and a transmitter blowing causing the building to run at half-power. It is obvious that I would find a lot to write about, as not a whole lot changes around my apartment, but I had just never consistently written about my experiences in a particular setting before while I was there.

While I composed two poems for my mini challenge, I composed three for my grand challenge. (I wanted to do four, but it was getting expensive.) Each of these poems comments on something that happened while I was at the HoDo, though I do make some information up, which I suppose is the poetic license portion of this exercise. While I do take instances from what I see around me, I do still make up a few things as I compose the poem. Sometimes I do this just to keep the poem going, like the time I saw the lady put on her daughter’s coat while talking on the phone and then leaving. While that is what I saw, that moment changed in the poem, Songs. It didn’t fit the way the poem started and so I changed it to the speaker of the poem seeing a woman’s leg move out from the booth and put on her coat to leave. I never mentioned the daughter because it did not fit the poem. And when I write a poem, I confess changes like this occur a fair amount, though the poem usually “takes off” from something real and something I witnessed.

From this exercise, I learned to take my poetry and other creative writing out in public more often. While I had never done much serious creative writing in public, I realized I need to do more of that because of the instances of life I see move around me and how that influences my writing. Plus, I like the connection it builds with and to the poem. What I mean when I say that last sentence is that there is this new intimacy that seems to happen when I compose a poem in public about a particular space I inhabit. I become a part of that space and that space echoes in the poem I am writing and I think that is a powerful thing.

I also cannot help but recall a past conversation I had with a friend. We were discussing how poetry has become abstract–and that abstraction has caused poets to lose their audience. Perhaps by using space (and place) in the composition of a poem will strengthen our poetry by making it less abstract and more accessible. For example, teachers still teach the poems of Robert Frost not only because he was a master at the metaphor, but also because he is one of our most accessible American poets. I think this is something to consider, especially since so much of what we write can be easily made available online to many readers. It is time we think more about making our words and our metaphors accessible, but this does not mean we make poetry more “simplistic.” In fact, it is quite different from that. Instead, this should challenge us to make our language more identifiable by our audience and to consider images and metaphors that resonate on a wider plane.

As a side note, there is a book I can read about the poetics of space titled, obviously enough, _The Poetics of Space_ by Gaston Bauchelard.


Wednesday, November 7th, 2012


There is a sad sounding song

something Midwestern

on the radio above this booth.

My friend stirs his drink silent

looking into it as if reading

for a future no one can name

I think of how I could sit here

telling him about men I used to know

or the poems I plan to write

But I know that a woman talking about men

from weeks ago is about as bad as a poet

talking about unwritten poems

I sit in a silence equal to his and watch

a woman’s leg burst out from the black

cut of a skirt as she puts on her coat and

the song ends as I order another oatmeal stout,

silently promising myself this is my last one,

this bitter beer as cold and distant as the Midwest.

HoDo, October 15, 2012

Jessica Jorgenson

Artist Date #3/ Grand Challenge

Weather and Ghosts

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Weather and Ghosts

arriving late out from the grey

rain that is two days old now

I step into the half dark bar

as a waitress who is almost like a friend

tells me the transmitter blew

and we are all running on half power

I want to explain to her that the almost

dark is calming like something

a person can sink into

then wake up from

this new half dark

reminds me about the nights I stayed up late

with the MFA poetry crew

whose ghosts now still sit in these booths

they are the silent ghosts I chase here

as I rehearse our old conversations in my mind

about this writing life and where exactly

we will go from this night, this bar.

HoDo, October 18, 2012

Jessica Jorgenson

Artist Date #4/Grand Challenge

The genre changing project + future revisions

Monday, November 5th, 2012

This semester I decided to do something different in my English 358 Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class. Actually, I did a lot of things different in my English 358 class and most of these things went well, from what I can see. For instance, for the first time ever, I had every student in my 11am class “get” the literary analysis. I have never had that happen before, so that was cool.

For the final project in the class, in the past I have given students free range to do just about anything, as long as it is relatable to their major and they can put it either in a professional portfolio or present it at a conference. What i noticed is that no one cared. I was speaking to an audience that, while academic, did not care too much about the project. In fact, I am pretty sure I had “recycled assignments” come through my class with the final project.

So this summer I was thinking of how I could change this and perhaps even challenge the way we teach. For example, we always lump the big projects together at the end of the semester in the form of group projects, final exams, and final papers. While I understand why we do this (assessment, getting students to apply knowledge from the semester) I think we over-emphasize it to the extent that the end of the semester easily becomes one big clusterfuck of activity. And I found that some projects were just badly put together because students felt stressed out and rushed, even though I understand this is also part of “academic culture.” I also really wanted to make students more responsible for their own learning in a rather literal way, so this is why I am having them create learning goals and their own rubric.

To try and either solve these problems or accomplish these goals, I decided that students should use knowledge from a previous class, project or previous classes. I feel I had asked them to do this before, but it obviously wasn’t working. Students were not getting the point. What I came up to solve this problem was the following, along with revisions, or corrections, I plan to make for future semesters:

1. Students would bring in a previous assignment from a class. The topic or main idea of the assignment had to be something they enjoyed. We spent a class day talking about these as students introduced their former project, what they liked, and what they wanted to improve. Each student composed a free write in class, but in the future I think we should talk about this as a class.

What I would change about #1: I would ask students include these in the assignment itself just so the audience could see the previous work. I would also ask that they include it in their course portfolio. I didn’t (silly me) think of doing this for this semester, which I am regretting as this project moves along. It would be nice for me, and for them, to see these and simply be reminded of what we are doing in the first place.

2. From this previous project, I asked them to switch genres. So, for example, I had a lot of students talk about blogs they had done in previous classes. Instead of writing a blog, they could create a website in groups (I have two groups working on a website right now) or they could change the focus of the project and create another blog (I have quite a few students doing this.)

What I would change about #2: As you can see, this is not a perfect system. Not every student changed genres, but instead they changed topic, which has caused audience changes, but not genre changes. For future semesters, I would spend more time talking about genre (how genre is a social action, how genres can be manipulated, etc) though getting genre across to students effectively can be difficult since, theoretically, it is such an abstract concept. Another option I could have is not turn this into a genre changing assignment necessarily, but changing it to an alternate audience assignment. For example, let’s say a student wrote an academic essay. I could have the student take that same topic and create a trade magazine article and by doing that the audience would change, along with the genre. And by doing this, genre would maybe become something more understandable.

3. Along with the above, students have to create a rubric that I will use to grade their assignment as well as learning goals. (Not learning objectives. Because learning objectives are specific and measurable, I felt this would be difficult/problematic to teach in the time I had. I think learning goals because they are more broad would be easier for students to articulate.)

What I would change about #3: So far, this has gone all right. Students have written proposals for their projects. With their proposal, they submit a rubric. The biggest problem here is working with students to create a strong rubric. (And some students misunderstood this and used the proposal rubric as an example and therefore kind of had a messy draft). Next time, i will give them a template for this rubric that they then can revise to create their own. I was going to do this in the first place, but then didn’t because we had spent class time working on rubrics. I had wrongly figured they had gotten it, but a few of them didn’t. The good news is that so far most students have understood this, but for a few we have spent much of the conference time working on that rubric.

4. Each student will write a reflection about what they learned from the previous assignment, what they learned when they changed genres and audiences and how their learning goals were met. Since the reflection comes last, I don’t have much to say about this right now. Currently, we are conferencing on proposals and rubrics, and I am simply reminding them that hey, there is also a reflective component to this.

From what I have noticed so far, I like this assignment. I think next time I will focus more on audience than on genre, however. I think audience is something they understand far better and would give me more of a foundation to work with in regards to this present assignment. And hopefully after this semester ends, I can update you with the final results of this new assignment, as well as talk more about how the changes I made to English 358 turned out with the expanded job packet and literary analysis and critical theory for non-literature majors unit.