The resiliency of the writing workshop during remote learning – Nestor Matthews, Psychology

I have taught a number of writing courses during my time at Denison. I have become a big fan of the writing workshop model. With a minimal amount of tech from the Google suite, this process transitioned very well to remote learning. Surprisingly, there are only three main ingredients:

Assign a prompt – I start with a detailed writing prompt that is often a response to a specific reading or video from a list I provide. Students are required to tie specific components from the course into their responses. To keep things focused, I ask them to present their work as Thesis -> Demonstration -> Conclusion. Students submit their complete essays into the learning management system by 11:59 PM the day before we conduct the workshop. Here are two sample prompts: Psyc 100 and Psyc 224.

Rubric – I provide students a rubric that will be used in the peer-editing phase. Over the years, I have gathered the most frequent errors to create my own rubric based on the micro level (“word” issues), mid level (“sentence” issues), and macro level (“paragraph” issues). The 26-item rubric fits on the back page of the writing prompt sheet. With remote learning, these were posted on Notebowl.

Peer review – This is where the fun begins. Prior to the class meeting, I anonymize the student submissions and place them in a Google folder accessible to the entire class. For example, 20 students would produce 20 papers numbered 1 through 20. Before our remote session, I post a list assigning each student to two of the numbered papers, e.g., Frank please consider papers 3 and 19. We then meet synchronously as a class with Zoom. Before the peer editing begins, students review the rubric for about three minutes to focus their work at hand. Next, we play a recall game where they cover the rubric and try to write down as many of the items as they can. I remind them that the topics are chunked – word, sentence, and paragraph.

Round 1 Blue (10 minutes) Students open the Google-Doc essay to which they’ve been assigned, write their ID at the top in blue, and begin the editing process by commenting in blue on the Google Doc.  To speed the process, they can use the numbering from the rubric. For example, a “7” means a poor word choice.

Round 1 Recap (3 minutes) Students use Zoom to share instances of strong writing or ways to improve writing. This is also an opportunity for students to discuss the essay’s content, independent of writing issues.

Round 2 Green (10 minutes) Students now open the second paper on their list. Again, they write their ID at the top, this time in green, and begin the editing process. Since this is the second round, each paper will already have blue comments, a number five for example. If the “green editor” (Round 2) agrees with the “blue editor” (Round 1), the green editor places a check mark by the blue editor’s comment. Otherwise, the green editor leaves the blue editor’s comment as is. The student author uses these markings to gauge inter-rater agreement.

Round 2 Recap (3 minutes) Students use Zoom to discuss content, and/or writing, and/or how the blue editor did.

I like this approach for several reasons:

The students:

are engaged during the entire session doing a variety of tasks.
gain practice with the rubric which helps them develop their own writing.
learn about the range of writing competency in the class.
practice using civility in providing written/oral feedback.

The instructor:

gains insight into each student’s editing skills.
has a head-start on grading essays!

Nestor Matthews

Chair of Psychology

Chair of Neuroscience