Archive for the ‘work’ Category

The crazy graduate student self

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

Now that I am done with my coursework and working on studying for my comprehensive exams and have built somewhat of a good reputation in my department (I say somewhat here because I don’t think people know me very well, which is really my own fault and something I plan to remedy), I have had opportunities thrown my way and also have had to make some decisions I don’t particularly enjoy making. I’ve also been thinking of how to approach this coming semester regarding my comps along with all the other responsibilities I have, such as teaching a new, and challenging, class and traveling to a conference to chair my first panel on authorship.

All this has had me thinking about how I feel I have two lives, or at least two distinct personalities that I’ve developed during graduate school, or perhaps I should say because of graduate school. Now don’t think I am meaning to sound crazy, though I know the way I phrase that may sound crazy, but what I mean is that in reality, I’m a very calm, collected, rational, and practical individual. A friend once said, “everything you do is deliberate.” He is right. I think through every possibility and examine the consequences of each decision I could make. I always do this. In fact, I’ve been doing this for the past couple days regarding my comp schedule for the coming semester. I haven’t completely made my decision yet, but I am certainly thinking about each action and the consequences and opportunities of those actions to figure out which is more beneficial to me.

So that is the calm, collected, rational part. The graduate student part of me is downright crazy. She is concerned more with what the CV says, than what may be best for her at that time. While I think sometimes I think she is right because, yes, my rational side says it would be possible to do it that way and be OK, that doesn’t exclude the desperation the crazy graduate student side demonstrates. As one of my friends would say, “that girl is just cray” and she kind of is sometimes.

Though I could give tons of examples, I am going to focus on the comps, which I know is a huge surprise to you all who have been reading this. One thing I have learned about the comps is that it is like having a newborn and listening to all the advice other people with children give. Everyone has their own ideas of how you should read for the comps. I’ve heard everything from “just take notes on two points from each article. Only worry about that” to “take good notes because it will help you with your dissertation.”  Some people also treat the comps as if it is just “something to get through” and while you will gain something from it, the meat is the dissertation. While I believe that is true to an extent, I know that if I take good notes and pay attention, I will be able to write a dissertation in a year or less. I know my work ethic. I know I am highly productive, even in the summer months. I also know that because I have not always taken classes in all of these areas, I need to pay close attention to my reading.

The point is that all this advice will drive you half-mad, to the point that crazy graduate student self is trying to tell you to pick the “easiest route” so that you can “be done quicker.” But the more mature side of me knows that probably isn’t the best idea, particularly because I am taking a route with this work that isn’t something I’ve been studying in classes as a student here. It is something that I’ve studied previously and worked on a lot and even have a life outside academia where I do work similar to this. (Wow, did I just say a life outside of academia?) So I know that while I can ask for advice until my head pops off, I need to follow my own best route.

And I have had other examples of this, too. Most recently is when I felt that I shouldn’t take (but didn’t receive anyway) a position after I had applied and interviewed for it because of how open-ended the position was and where I was at in my program. Knowing my own work ethic and thoughtfulness, I know how consuming that could really be, and at a time where I couldn’t have time for it. There is also the time I took three seminar classes while also teaching as a Master’s student because then next semester I wouldn’t have such a load and could work more on thesis research. That was crazy and probably not wise, but I survived. I received my first B because of that semester. And yes, I’ve done similar, crazy things as a PhD student just so I could make sure to finish coursework “on time,” whatever that means.

It is as if as a graduate student, there is always a clock running in the background that you are constantly aware of, and you are worried you are not up to par against that clock. It is a silly thought, really, my rational side says, because there is no such clock and everyone has their own levels of determination and momentum. Intelligence, really, has little to do with it. Being super smart helps, but it certainly isn’t necessary. And I know that sounds hilarious to some of you who are probably not in academia, but it is the truth. It is really just about getting the work done, being competent, and knowledgeable in your area. You do not have to remember everything, though I am sure it is helpful if you can, though I am not sure how you could, frankly. You simply have to know where to find the information you need. If you have that down, you are golden.

In sum, as a wise friend on twitter said, this is really just all about choosing which hill you want to die on and I have encountered some hills recently that I know I should not die on. I’m sure I’ll see others that I have to avoid in this coming year.

Computers and Writing nOOb

Monday, June 10th, 2013

First of all, this post really doesn’t at all convey my true excitement about all that I learned at C&W 2013. It only tries to get at the big picture points, as most of my blog posts do.

‘This past week I attended my first Computers and Writing (#cwcon on Twitter) conference. Before I tell you more, I have to confess one thing:

I do not write code. I am not a programmer. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

And at first, I thought this might be a stumbling block, or a complete dead end in the road, especially as I participated in the Graduate Research Network and met a ton of coders and computer programmer types. I just sat there through most of the conversations and wondered WTF, am I in the right place? What am I doing here? These people are great, I thought, but I have nothing to contribute to this conversation. My only knowledge of any code is basic HTML knowledge that I picked up in the mid and late 90s and by now that is probably so old it is akin to ancient rhetoric, though admittedly I still use it when I need to. And I mean, anyone who had a livejournal account and/or an angelfire site had to use some basic HTML. You want to bold and italicize, don’t you? You want to insert that link. You need that cool graphic on your livejournal. But do I code? Oh, hell no. In fact, I have some interest in coding, but not enough to get me started fully right now. I have started codeacademy, but my progress is slow, mainly because of everything else I am doing. But that is probably more or less an excuse.

But as I continued to participate in the conference, I felt more at ease. For one, no one was bothered that I was tweeting or using my phone during panels. People always assume I am not paying attention if I am on my phone or ipad or macbook, but normally I am and in most cases I was actually tweeting the conference panel. I also was able to participate in a number of discussions about social media and teaching, about creative writing and new media (and by the way, I met a ton of people who are creative writers and do use social media to distribute, promote, and work on their writing, so haha), and there was even some really fun and nostalgic discussions about angelfire, livejournal, and even Homestar Runner. In fact, I think a few of us got really nostalgic about Homestar Runner via Twitter. In some ways, these folks were speaking my language, even if I did not know Javascript or Python.

Along with that, I learned a lot, especially about multimodality. A lot of the panels I went to focused on multimodal pedagogy. Probably the most useful thing I came away with in terms of teaching was how to better my multimodal assignments, particularly the professional blog assignment. I realized I need to almost completely revamp that, particularly the rubric. Students have been kind of awful at the multimodal component of the blog, and after attending computers and writing, I understand why. I realized I need to make these things much more explicit to them and maybe eventually work to teach them some code, once i start to learn it. I also need to talk with them more about “hacking spaces.” I need to get them to use Google Drive, Google+ hangouts, etc more, especially in my online classes. What people discussed and presented on inspired me not to do more with technology, because I already do a lot and don’t want to start the Creepy Treehouse, but to do better with technology.

Finally, I don’t think I have been to a more friendly, collegial conference in my life. I think I must have connected with at least 30 people via Twitter and am still getting Twitter follows. But don’t go thinking this conference was some Utopia conference, especially considering the coffee situation, though that stuff was entirely contextual to Frostburg, or seemed to be. I think some things need to be improved (for example, I heard a few complaints about gender in terms of women who don’t code and the bias that surrounds that as well as how race has been treated at the conference), but I think those conversations are getting started, or seemed to be and I hope they are and that those conversations grow and continue. Either way, C&W has a great community with highly talented people and great ideas that are already being implemented. At one point in the conference, Karl Stolley said that ‘if you aren’t here, I don’t know what you are doing.” While that may sound harsh, he has a point. I don’t feel my connection to technology is a bad thing when it is a learning and teaching tool and has given me, and all of us, the opportunities we now enjoy and will enjoy later.

Looking back on the first week of the four week writing course

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Oh my gosh, you all.

So, when I first started planning this class, I was excited because now I can finally really focus on what is important to learn and emphasize those things in a four week class. I was having a blast. And I imagined most of these students would be motivated, dedicated, and maybe even a little interested.

Wow, Jessica, what beautiful fantasies you have.

For the most part, I still like the quick pace. The thing I still find strange, though not difficult, is basically teaching a week’s worth of material in one class period. But I like how this makes me focus more on what is important in the information and the activities. This also makes me grateful that I write such detailed agendas. This way, students can easily review notes from that day.

One thing I don’t like is how some students are simply taking this class because they aren’t good writers and this way they only have to “work on their writing” for four weeks. I feel frustrated by this because they could learn so much more in a regular semester long class, which I happened to tell one student. The student responded with something about his/her plan of study and wanting an “easier” fall semester. OK. But you still need to know how to write and while even a regular semester length course cannot solve every writing problem, it can force you to write more and work more on your writing for a longer period of time. But therein lies the rub, I guess.

All the same, I get where these students are coming from. For example, I am awful at math. Math is something akin to a foreign language to me, and one that isn’t Spanish, so maybe Greek or Latin. I look at Algebra and I have no idea. I read a story problem and the ideas get jumbled in my mind. I think, the train goes how fast for how long? What? When we were working on budgets in grant and proposal class, I had to take close and careful notes. I had to review them to make sure my math was right. When I calculate grades, I review my math at least 3 times to make sure I did it all right. So if this were a four week math course, yeah. I can see what these students are thinking. But, of course, that doesn’t make it any easier for anyone. As a teacher I know this. As a student who did this herself, I know this.

But most of the students in the class can take this without so much as a pit stop. They are in this four week class because they are accelerated learners themselves, which makes them quite a lot of fun to teach and to have class discussions with. Most are smart and not overbearing about it, and if you are a teacher, you completely know what I mean by that. If you are not a teacher, what I mean is that often the really, super smart kids are the ones who get a little uppity from time to time. They will point this out to peers or to you as the teacher, just to show off. They hold their intellect over you as the teacher and the entire class like a sword lunging at you and you keep bracing for it. But I haven’t noticed this yet. Everyone has been pretty cool.

So far, the class has been fun, if not incredibly busy and at times exhausting. I am at the office by eight, in the classroom by nine, but I “get done” so early. But then of course there is more lesson planning and grading and responding to emails. (Oh emails, the song that never ends.) I always just hope I remember my coffee in the morning before I leave my apartment. When time moves this fast, it really is the little things that make all the difference.

Students and bullying

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Today I led a meeting for fellow English 358 instructors at my university regarding our classes, where we should go from here, and so forth. Since I am a person who likes to make plans, and who desperately wishes it was possible to create a solid ten-year plan that would without a doubt become reality, I don’t mind meetings or committee work. I mostly dig it and I always learn a lot from it.

At the end of the meeting today, bullying behavior from students was brought up. As teachers, we deal with bullying students probably more than is reasonable. One individual at our meeting today suggested that she thinks bullying has gotten worse between teachers and students, just as how it has gotten worse between students themselves. In fact, it is hard to find a news day that doesn’t mention bullying.

You may be asking what types of bullying behaviors we, as teachers, have received from students. I think there is a lot of answers to this, but the one that is most prominent centers on students bullying teachers for better grades. Here are some things I have encountered as a teacher from students who want better grades without any actual extra effort, or show other bullying behaviors:

  • Passive Aggressive emails about how they uploaded the assignment correctly, mistyped the email address, or did some other error that isn’t really any fault of theirs, even though it is, and so they should not get a grade decrease for a late assignment. 
  • Students who use whatever authority they can think of against you in efforts for a better grade or to make up for absences.
  • Students who tell you sob stories or other information in order to excuse them from class. If they get away with this once, it usually gets to be unreasonable, I have learned.
  • Students who will come to your office hours continually in hopes you will eventually “give in” and give them a better grade.
  • Students who turn in medical excuses that are not from the recent semester in hopes you will raise their grade on an assignment or in a class.
  • Students who turn in a revision, but don’t do all the required work for it, and expect a higher grade. When the higher grade does not appear, then they do whatever they can to “get back” at you. This can include poor SROI scores (yes, we sometimes can tell, but grades have already been posted), unreasonable complaints online toward the teacher, and passive aggressive behavior inside and outside of class.

I know I used second person in that list, but I am sure other teachers who read this can relate. Plus, I want you, as the reader, to try to understand a bit more where we, as teachers, are coming from. For example, in a simple google search, I could find some  information about “students who bully teachers.” I could, however, find a lot more information regarding “teachers as bullies.” 

This quick and simple google search tells me we, as teachers, need to work on creating a better discourse around dealing with students who bully for better grades, higher performance assessments, and more lenient deadlines in our classes. During the meeting for fellow instructors today, we decided having a “brown bag seminar” may be a good way to discuss strategies for dealing with bullying behaviors from students. Some strategies I already use include the following:

  • Requiring a memo for a revised assignments that details the revisions made, why those revisions were made, along with a previous grade the student received for the assignment. I also ask my students include the original assignment with the rubric and comments I left. 
  • Use policies from my syllabus, such as behavioral policies and other course expectations, as ways to rhetorically approach and combat these behaviors. I’ve noticed students are less likely to argue with syllabus policies that are in print and in front of them. Sometimes it actually helps if you make them read it to you.
  • I do my best to keep written documentation of EVERYTHING. This includes rubrics, attendance sign in sheets, passive aggressive emails I receive from students. The whole works. I keep these records for at least one academic year, just in case a student does come back to complain about a grade the next semester.

Even with this, I have not completely solved the problem. I doubt I ever will. In fact, it seems that parents today are more or less raising a generation of negotiators, according to this article documenting letters to the Tooth Fairy. While that article may seem cute and funny, I think there is a ring of truth to it. In fact, I think teachers like me are already dealing with this kind of negotiating behavior. I won’t argue knowing how to negotiate is bad, but there is a time and place for it. Negotiating over grades, issues of attendance, a lack of engagement in class, and other poor student behavior is not appropriate nor does it look promising for an individual who is soon to enter the professional workplace.

Changes for Spring 2013

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

I’ve spoken a bit about what I plan for my spring semester teaching wise here a couple of times. I stated that I would be teaching English 320, which focuses on business and professional communication. I was excited to teach the class and had two sections lined up for the course, so no double preps for me. But after the semester ended, I realized one of my classes had a low enrollment. Not surprisingly, it was the class that was scheduled for later in the day. But my first section had a high enrollment and was nearly full.

I contacted the chair of my department about the low enrollment and stated I was fine with any of the options to keep my stipend and TA status, though I was most interested in the opportunity with the writing center on campus. All the same, I wasn’t sure how they felt about doctoral students there since I had previously heard that doctoral students couldn’t use writing center work in place of one of their teaching loads. Apparently, this was incorrect information since the chair stated that the writing center would be happy to have more doctoral students. So I sent off a letter of application, my CV, and in the body of the email explained my situation of the canceled class and needed an alternative. I also expressed my excitement about working in the writing center.

One of my goals for the long-term future is to work in administration. I’d be interested in working with WAC, WID or directing some type of writing program, whether first year, upper division, or both. The opportunity to work in a writing center would serve as good guiding experience in this goal.

I have also worked as a tutor before, though never worked as a writing center tutor. I have worked as a tutor for international studies at my undergraduate university where I worked with international students on work they had to do in their literature and writing classes. As a MA student, I worked with the McNair Program prior to obtaining my first TA.

I am excited for this opportunity. I also have to admit I like the fact my grading will be cut down significantly. For the graduate student, grading always feels like the biggest chore. I enjoy responding to student work, but having to give that work a grade is the thing I dislike. I always confess my dislike for grades and explain why on the second day of class and explain the difference between responding to their work and grading it. This semester will be no different.

Having only one section of a class also means, of course, that when I screw up in my first class, I can’t redeem myself for the second session. 🙂

Another benefit of having only one section is that I am now able to take a Tuesday night class I wasn’t willing to take since I was teaching that second section. Now I am free to take that class and it will work out much better for my degree anyway. The history class, while useful if I keep my dissertation topic, is only really useful if I keep my dissertation topic. 😉

I’ll know more about what is going to happen to my spring schedule when I get back to school in a couple weeks. I know that if the writing center takes me, I’ll be working there 10 hours a week. Right now I have Fridays off, but I doubt that will continue with the ten hours I would need to fulfill.

A girl can dream. Even a graduate student can dream.

Update on the revised final project for English 358

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

I may say more about this later, but after grading about half of the final projects for one of my English 358 sections, I just wanted to share a couple observations.

  1. The reflection is not necessary. Most people, if they did this at all, didn’t do a very good job. A lot of people just added this to their cover letter. Some didn’t do it at all, and I really didn’t punish them grade-wise for not doing it. I think the project itself, with the proposal and rubric, was probably tough enough, especially at the end of the semester.
  2. The rubric was still problematic, which makes me realize I do need to create a template for them or that I need to cut down on the types of assignments they can do and create one that can be used in a broader way. I don’t know why I didn’t do this the first time. What happened was I had the following: a couple people didn’t have very clear rubrics, so it was hard for me to grade them, and so I ended up revising their rubrics anyway and one person didn’t have a rubric at all. It just creates more work for me. So next time I will either create a template for them to follow or grade this using my own version and cut back the types of assignments they can do. I did, however, deduct points for incomplete, unclear or absent rubrics since I feel we did spend a fair amount of time talking about them, and even conferenced one-on-one on these documents.

Did any of that surprise me terribly? Not really. I was anticipating a fair amount of that, and so I was prepared. The the projects and portfolios overall, for what they aim to achieve, are relatively good.

I have not yet gotten to my other section, which this semester seemed like the “stronger” section for the course I was teaching. I am curious as to how their projects turned out. And I am looking forward to reading the remainder of the projects. The good news is that I can say the students actually cared about these final projects. I could tell because of the amount of work they put into them and the discussion they had about them in their cover letters. I just need to go about teaching it differently next time.

The end of the semester, graduate student style

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Well, it is that time again. It is the second day of a five day week of finals. This morning I turned in a seminar paper for my Creativity class about the generative workshop, poetics and OOO. Before that, I turned in a course portfolio for English 320 Business and Professional Communication and English 321 Writing in the Technical Professions. During the remainder of this week, I will be continuing my work on a research proposal for my Communication Research class, which is going ok, though it is quantitative research, y’all. Good news is that the research proposal is not due until Friday at five, though I am planning to turn it in by noon on Friday. I also have to peer review three other research proposals by the end of the day on Wednesday for my Communication class as well.

But I am close to be done. By the time I am done, I would have had two weeks of hardcore writing, reading, and research. I took 9 credits this semester and yeah, I am feeling that. For my TA, I only need six credits, so this nine thing. Yeah. But I did a similar thing last spring semester when I was finishing up my language requirement.

After I finish, I’ll worry about my stack of grading, which this semester is an electronic stack of grading. Earlier this morning, I sent out the final reminder for my 12pm writing intensive class reminding them the portfolio is due by three tomorrow and how I will be in my office if there are any huge problems. I am hoping there will be no huge problems, but I can easily imagine a couple from this class having some kind of problem and needing to find me or sending me panicky emails about some crazy, made up story. No offense to them. I was not always a stellar student, though I never lied about my lazy.

Today I plan to spend a lot of time at the office working on that proposal and those peer review drafts. Tonight I’ll have a couple beers with friends and see an interesting Science Cafe talk. It should be a good time. By the end of the week, however, I’ll really need to de-stress before I start the long trek of grading.

The extrovert and introvert in the collaborative classroom

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

I’ve been reading The Introverts Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Demblingwhose blog “The Introvert’s Corner” I have been reading for a couple of years now. I like the blog she writes, even when there are things I disagree with, like her article on how Halloween is an extroverted holiday. I, for one, am an extreme introvert (clinically) who adores Halloween, mainly because I love hearing and telling scary stories. But, for the most part, I can relate to the majority of what she discusses.

As I was reading her book, I started thinking about how we often educate our students. For instance, in the classroom, collaborative learning is all the rage. We want assignments to be collaborative, not only because it cuts down on our amount of grading as writing teachers (an added bonus, we must admit), but because so much of what one does in the “real world” is indeed collaborative. And I usually do have one assignment each semester that can be done collaboratively, or one that I purposely created to be collaborative, like the group marketing project for my English 320 class. I don’t think doing any of these things is problematic since it is important we teach students how to effectively work together in groups. What I do wonder about, however, is how much we push collaborative learning in the classroom. Are we leaving out the introverts? Are we stressing them out further? Are we causing them unnecessary anxiety?

I think back on how I used to, and still occasionally do, react to group work in the classroom. While I don’t mind it, I do dislike it when it becomes overdone. This happens if I come to a class and every class period involves a heavy dose of group work. When this happens, I begin to yearn for a lecture where I can sit quietly and take notes and think. I start to romanticize the lengthy lecture professors sometimes give, even though they typically do not constitute what many of us consider good pedagogy today. The point is, after too much group work, I become exhausted, slightly angry, and rarely, but occasionally, apathetic toward that specific classroom environment.

The problem with my feelings, however, is that I am guilty of doing similar things as a teacher. I have students do what I consider is quite a bit of small group work in my classroom. Sure, I often break this up with mini lectures and individual activities. I even often allow students to choose their own group members, and they usually have no problem with this, being juniors and seniors. They easily group themselves together. And I have noticed that when they get to choose their group members, they often are more engaged than when I choose their group members for them. But all the same, I can’t help but wonder if the quieter students are getting frustrated with the levels of group work, even though I do try to break it up with other activities. I know as a student I would feel this way from time to time, even in the way I structure my own classroom.

So as I was thinking of this I grew concerned that our present learning environment is problematic for introverts. I did some surface level research on this and found out the way we teach isn’t necessarily fantastic for extroverts, either. For example, most of our assignments are individual assignments. We also tell students they need to study, which is often a solitary activity, or  at least traditionally speaking it is a solitary activity. We also ask students to be quiet and work independently a fair amount of the time, even if our current pedagogy is collaborative in the classroom. Like I said, they still have to create most of those assignments alone and they still take tests independently.

To be fair, I did try to change a lot of my pedagogy this semester in consideration of the quiet kids. For example, I often emailed discussion questions for class a couple days before they were to be discussed. I had a couple of my introverted students tell me they appreciated me doing that for them, since they know they take more time to think than other students do. And this isn’t because they aren’t as smart, but there really is a biological difference in the brains of introverts and extroverts.  I also asked students to send me a professional email where they discussed how they participated in class, with a few examples, and articulate to me the grade they felt they earned because of that. Of course, most students claimed they earned an A, but from these emails I did learn a lot about my students and how they felt they had participated. The quieter students talked about writing a lot during free write activities or talking more in small groups or coming up with ideas during group work that were instrumental in the completion of the activity. They also talked about how they helped other classmates solve problems. These two changes I made, I feel, really did help the quieter students. It also allowed the introverted students to speak up more, so I wasn’t constantly hearing from the 3-5 overly social extroverts in the class.

Still, I feel there is more I could do. I still feel guilty about how we push collaboration so much in the classroom and in ways that are so directly collaborative. What I want to start thinking about are more ways we can be collaborative, and yet be a little more subtle about it or quieter about it. Perhaps doing some online discussion boards or using other forms of social media for discussion will help. That way, the quiet students can participate more freely and without having to speak up in a classroom of 22 students. They will still be doing this, only on their own terms and from the comfort of their laptop. I understand it is important to push collaborative work, but I think collaborative work is a more loaded term than we immediately consider.

So, here are some solutions that I thought of during this post:

  1. Simply ask students how they feel they learn, and politely ask them to forget what they know about learning. Make them think of a time where they had to learn something new. How did they do it? Why did it work for them?
  2. Ask students what they value in collaboration. Work from this and build a discussion from the responses. Incorporate the findings into pedagogy.
  3. Ask students for feedback during the course and collaborative work. Check in. Maybe this will help us with what I discuss above, for both personality types.
  4. Have some individual work included in the group work. As a teacher, we could make this information clearer and help with assigning certain tasks and have students give us some feedback regarding this. A big problem here would be making it seem as if we are micromanaging them in their group work, though.
  5. Have students work on something individually and then create something collaboratively from the individual work. This might be a really good exercise for everyone.

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.