Workshop Recap: Utilizing Peer Review in the Class Curriculum, November 12, 2013

Earlier this year, WAC fellow Zak Aidala wrote an excellent blog post¬†about using peer review in the college classroom. On November 12, WAC fellows Melanie Lorek and¬†Heather Zuber led a full workshop expanding on peer review, introducing us to their “eight great” strategies to make peer review work for faculty in the classroom. The PowerPoint and handouts from the workshop are provided below.

Workshop participants also got a chance to role play a peer review ourselves, letting us see firsthand the benefits of using peer review. Heather and Melanie also helped to dispel a variety of myths and misconceptions about peer review.

After acknowledging some common misconceptions about peer review, the participants brainstormed a list of benefits and advantages to peer review. Most groups came up with a similar list: students feel less pressure when being reviewed by their peers, students are forced to reflect on their writing, students are encouraged to feel autonomy as writers, it saves time for the professor when assessing writing, and it allows shy students to participate.

Melanie and Heather then introduced their “eight great strategies” for effective peer review. While you can look in detail at all of them in the PowerPoint presentation below, their first and most important aspect was to focus on only a single feature of a draft, such as the thesis, the supporting evidence, topic sentences, etc., rather than having reviewers look at global revisions. This helps to avoid aimless peer reviewing, or confused questions of “what am I supposed to do?” by the students. Using a handout with specific instructions and questions aids this process.

We then put this theory into practice, breaking into groups and peer reviewing only the thesis of a few different student papers. While each paper had a variety of higher- and lower-order concerns, by focusing on just one aspect, the thesis, we were able to give good recommendations to the hypothetical writer. Heather and Melanie also provided us all with samples of handouts that we might use for a variety of different peer review activities.

Click here for the PowerPoint, and click here for the handouts.

Did you attend the workshop? What worked for you? What would you have found more useful? Feel free to comment below!

Our next workshop is on Effective Grading Techniques, and will be held on December 10, 2013, at 1pm in Namm 226. Lunch will be provided!


Workshop Recap: Effective Assignment Design, October 22, 2013

Last Tuesday, WAC Fellows Zachary Aidala and Justina Oliveira led an excellent workshop on effective assignment design and assignment scaffolding for City Tech faculty. We were so pleased to have faculty members from all across the college in attendance. Since reading and writing are so intimately linked when creating assignments, our WAC team was joined by Professor Juanita But from the English Department and the college’s reading initiative, Reading Effectively Across the Disciplines (READ). As writing professor Toby Fulwiler reminds us:

[Reading and writing] are interdependent, mutually supportive skills, both of which are “basic” to an individual’s capacity to generate critical, developed, independent thought.” [1]

Justina began by outlining two of the workshop’s major pedagogical theories: writing as active reading, and purposeful writing assignments. The first represents the idea that by assigning low-stakes writing assignments such as note-taking, summaries, or informal response papers, students will internalize and learn from readings more comprehensively. The second theory is something of a WAC mantra, the idea that student writing should not merely convey knowledge but also reinforce larger educational course objectives, be it critical thinking or doing discipline-specific work.

Prof. But covered a variety of techniques that utilize writing to encourage better reading comprehension. She showed us the two-column note-taking method, where students take notes on content in one column, and then annotate their notes in an adjacent column. This echoes another great WAC strategy: having students explain course material to a “new learner,” such as a friend or relative, forcing the student to put complex ideas into their own words.

Concept Map
Click on image for larger version

She also introduced us to the concept map, a visual aid for readers to organize major themes, subjects, hypotheses, and other material in a reading. A short exercise for attendees using an E.B. White paragraph later revealed the usefulness of this organizational tool.

Justina then covered some of the differences between low- and high-stakes writing. One of the many benefits to low-stakes writing is that it can be used as a purely pedagogical tool, or “writing to learn,” but it can also be part of a scaffold, a number of smaller writing exercises that lead to a longer, high-stakes paper. She concluded with a very handy checklist (available on handout at bottom of this article) of items instructors should remember to ask themselves when designing an assignment, things that all of us as instructors have probably forgotten at one point or another (e.g. “Have I expressed who the intended audience is for this paper?”). Finally, she presented a series of useful assignment types for low-stakes writing, including a variety of prompt types, summary assignments, or the “explain to a new learner” strategy.

Next, Zak Aidala covered high-stakes assignments, and how to better prepare students for writing these longer, more serious papers. He covered a variety of ideas for scaffolding larger assignments, or building up to the final paper with a series of shorter targeted papers. The workshop concluded with each group considering a traditional high-stakes assignment that had a number of flaws, and each table of faculty and fellows approached it with a variety of “fixes.” One table focused entirely on creating writing as reading assignments, another on low-stakes scaffolded assignments, and another on high-stakes scaffolded assignments.

If you missed our Effective Assignment Design Workshop, the PowerPoint is available here. Please feel free to download it and if you have questions, use the comments section below. We also have a concise Handout with directions for concept mapping, ideas for low-stakes writing assignments, and an assignment design checklist, all taken from the presentation.

Our next workshop will be on November 12 at 1pm, and covers Peer Review, another great tool that you can use in the classroom with low- or high-stakes assignments. We hope to see you there, and check back here for more information shortly.


[1] Toby Fulwiler, “Why We Teach Writing in the First Place,”¬†fforum 4, no. 2 (1983): 123.

Developing Your Writing-Intensive Course, Tuesday, December 4th, 1:00-2:15PM


Please join us for our final workshop of the semester:

Developing Your Writing- Intensive Course

What is writing-intensive instruction, and how does it work across the disciplines? In this workshop, we will review the guidelines for writing- intensive courses, and consider ways to adapt our assignments and practices in developing them.

Workshops are open to all City Tech faculty and staff.

DATE: Tuesday, December 4, 2012
VENUE: N 227
TIME: 1.00 p.m. – 2.15 p.m.

Lunch will be served.

RSVP to Faculty Commons:

WAC Workshop–Tuesday, November 13th, 1:00-2:15pm, V806

Please join us for our next¬†WAC¬†workshop, “Learning Course Content
through Writing.” Writing can be a tool to demonstrate what one has
learned; it can also be a tool to facilitate learning. In this workshop
lead by WAC Fellows, we will explore various methods for fostering
learning through writing in courses across the disciplines. Please see
below or click on the poster for further details.

“Learning Course Content through Writing”

Workshops are open to all City Tech faculty and staff.

DATE: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
VENUE: V 806, Voorhees building – 186 Jay Street
TIME: 1.00 p.m. – 2.15 p.m.

Lunch will be served.



Please join us for our annual WAC Welcome, and save these dates!

Please join us to welcome our new cohort of fellows to City Tech!

Save the date for these workshops for faculty and staff:

Tuesday, October 16, 1:00-2:15, N227:  Promoting Academic Integrity

Tuesday, November 13, 1:00-2:15, V806: Learning Course Content through Writing

Tuesday, December 4, 1:00-2:15, N227: Developing your Writing-Intensive Course

Please encourage students to attend these events, sponsored by WAC and the Emerging Scholars and Honors Scholars Programs:

Thursday, September 27, 1:00-2:00; 4:00-5:00: Writing Abstracts for Research Projects