Sunday, December 7, 2014

Peer Critiques and Repurposed Fishbowls: Part II

In the first installment of this two-part post, I tried to capture how I used a fishbowl protocol to demonstrate peer critiques. You might want to eyeball what I wrote there first. I ran the demonstration in four separate classes, switching it up a little each time based on the success or weakness of each iteration. I'd like to reflect here on what worked, what didn't, and what I'd do differently. In no particular order, here goes:
  • I gotta do this whole process much, much earlier in the semester - students appreciated observing the process. My verbal description couldn't capture a session. It's all about "showing and telling". Plus, doing this process earlier makes time for separate editing sessions. I want to keep revising and editing as distinct as possible. 
  • The first session, I didn't share the peer critique guidelines with the rest outer circle. Afterwards I quickly crafted a quick version of the guidelines for the remaining three demonstrations We "popcorn red" the guidelines and stems before each of the subsequent demos. Made a huge difference because students had a sense what to observe.
  • During the sessions when students had printed guidelines, I instructed them to take notes on those guidelines as if getting ready to critique the author. This kept them engaged beyond simply listening. After the inner circle finished their process, I asked if anyone in the outer circle wanted to share their comments. Many students volunteered, rehearsing the stems. i could hear how well students "got it" (or not!). 
  • By the third demonstration, I realized it would be good to review key terms of the assignment in addition to reading the peer critique guidelines. In this case, the project was a narrative, so prior to diving into the fishbowl, I had students pair-and-share relevant concepts: action, exposition, thought-shots, flashbacks, transitions, description, explanation, plot, dialogue, etc.
  • I originally planned to run only one demo per class, reserving the rest of the period for students to run their own peer critiques. I misjudged how long the process would take. I decided by the second session that two demonstrations would be even better. I could hear and see that students understood the quality of commentary we hoped to elicit. 
  • Instead of diving into student lead peer critiques as I did the first attempt, I had students use the peer critique guidelines to start making notes on on their partners' papers (groups of three or four) to prepare what they would say during their sessions. My hope was to get students comfortable with the stems, and I could cruise around the room to to clarify the process. 
  • Students responded well to seeing other students leading the critiques. I need to buddy up with professors who teach more advanced courses or creative writing courses that use peer critique sessions to see if I can "steal" their. Either that, or get in with the folks at the Writing Center to see if could do the critique. 
  • When I actually had students do run their own peer critiques, we met in class. I asked them to review their notes before breaking up into their groups. Instead of keeping them in the class, I allowed them to leave the class to perform their critiques. They could work in the library, Academic Success Center, cafeteria, under a tree. I wanted to give them a small bit of autonomy, and they responded quite well. 
  • I've gotta figure out some sort of evaluation or assessment after the whole fishbowl AND peer critique process, one for students and another for me. I'd like the one for students to be a sort of plan of action, a record of what happened and their initial ideas about their next steps. For me, I'd like to see get a better sense of what students get from the process. This means I need to clarify for myself the purpose of the peer critique and how to gauge the effect the demonstration has on students' learning. 
My three biggest takeaways? 

I) Recognizing the importance of showing vs. telling. Not just for this process, but every other time I provide direct instruction. I want to figure out best how to do more showing, demonstrations that complement verbal and/or written instructions. And I wanna get the sequence and balance between showing and telling just right. 

II) Allowing for depth means taking my time, slowing up the process. Rushing does us no good. We could have done demos and ran actual critiques in a single period. We could have done more in less time, but that would mean sacrificing depth, reminding me that depth trumps coverage. Slowing up the process allowed us to iterate key terms, rehearse the process, and move back and forth between showing and telling instead of leaning primarily on one or the other. 

III)  I've got to focus on learning objectives. This means figuring out what I hope students gain AND devising quick and dirty formative assessments. And that assessment should also help guide students the next time they do a peer critique and engage the next steps in their writing process. 

This was a great experience, and I definitely plan to do this again.  Anyone else use fishbowls in an English class? Suggestions on how to leverage self-evaluations in the process? Ideas on assessing efficacy? Thanks in advance for your feedback.