"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Class Before Thanksgiving

This morning, I rode the elevator with one of the department's poetry professors, who commented that today should be like a ghost town around here and I agreed. It's the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and for us, break starts tomorrow. Yesterday, my dear friend Mike Czyzniejewski posted this as his Facebook status: "I've never met people as thankful as my students this semester, many of who are taking a nine-day weekend to celebrate their awesome level of thankfulness. It's inspiring, really." I was, frankly, quite surprised that only two of my students in my 150 skipped this morning, mostly because their rough draft of their final Writing Project was due. Tonight, I know of one student who will miss Fiction, not because she went home, but because she got some theater tickets to something or other. We're Skyping with Kent Krueger tonight, so it's her loss, I suppose.

But today in 150, I tried a new workshop strategy that I'd not tried before. I got the idea from the ProfHacker blog on the Chronicle website: "Speed Dating Peer Review Workshops." The directions here are for an exercise on introductions, but since that's not something we need help on at this particular stage, I had my students choose one short section of their essay that they were nervous about, didn't think worked well, or they had a specific question about. We formed two circles, facing each other, and since we had an odd number of students, I hopped in to the mix. The pairs switched papers and each read the section identified and came up with a specific piece of advice. They traded advice, wrote down the advice on a separate sheet of paper (to keep the draft clean for the next person). Very quick--this whole process took 5 minutes. Then one circle stood up and moved one seat to the right. Five minutes. Next seat. We did this six or seven times and then I had the students look at the feedback they'd gotten and I had them write hard for five minutes, immediately starting to revise that section with fresh ideas. Write hard, keep going, if you get stuck write I'm stuck I'm stuck I'm stuck.

The consensus was that it was a good exercise, they got some interesting feedback and the quick writing netted some positive results. I'm looking forward to using this workshop idea in more classes, maybe even in a creative writing class. The quick nature of the feedback and that they got quite a few pieces of advice on the same section meant that if their partner gave them advice that didn't work, they weren't left with no advice.

My goal is to grade some of these rough drafts before I leave for home tomorrow, so I can spend the weekend playing with my family and chasing my niece. I hope they're good drafts!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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