Saturday 8 February 2014

Workshopping with final year students

I met my new Final Portfolio group on Wednesday. There are only two students from last semester but I’ve met most of the rest on other courses. We had a great session. It probably helps that they have now been using this particular version of the workshop for a semester already.

How it works

I’ve created a group on our VLE, Blackboard, and included myself in the group. Our class meets on a Wednesday, so by Monday 2.00 p.m. the four people whose turn it is to submit that week email work to the whole group. This gives everyone the chance to have a good look at the work before the class.
The workshop operates through weeks 2-9. Week 1 is an orientation week and Week 11 students have one to one tutorials. Week 12 is submission week. So, the group is divided into three and between four and six students submit each week.
It’s ideal if everyone prints the work out, annotates it and brings it to class. In reality, however, many students bring the work on mobile devices.  This means they cannot hand back a hard-copy text. They are very good, however, at emailing comments to peers and this is useful if someone is not able to attend.  
This particular group has decided that we should look at work even if the creator has not turned up to class. Yes, they realise that they can learn a lot by looking at other people’s work.
If students submit late they may not have their work looked at before the session. They’re supposed to submit about 1000 words of prose, ten minutes of script, or three poems. If the submit a lot more we only look at it very generally. If they submit less we almost parse it.  
It’s all right also for them to submit an idea.  

What I do

As soon as the work comes in I save it twice on to a remote drive. On the second copy I make comments and occasionally alter formatting using the review facility on Word. I try to make at least ten annotations – I’ll keep going over and over it until I have ten. These can be anything – typos, formatting mistakes, punctuation problems but also the bigger ideas – thin characters, too much of any one technique, telling, not showing. I’ll often pinpoint weaknesses with questions.
At the end I’ll put a more summative comment: I’ll perhaps highlight the greatest strengths and weaknesses and suggest just one thing they might do to improve. I don’t want to overwhelm them. They of course also have the annotations.
At least because I annotate and comment electronically they can read what I’ve said; I’m sure they would struggle to read my handwriting.  

What happens in class

We spend about twenty-five minutes on each script. We have to finish at ten to the hour to allow the next lecturer to set up. We have a ten minute break in the middle, though we’ll often spend that talking about general writing issues.
 I’ll put up on the screen the plain version of the script. I’ll let the other students comment first. Sometimes they make all the same points that I do. Occasionally they notice something I haven’t spotted. Five minutes before the end of each slot I’ll reveal my annotated script. I’ll emphasize my summative comments and hand back a printout of the script.
I find I’m learning all the time with my students. Seeing what works and doesn’t work in other people’s texts helps me to evaluate my own.
No wonder I’m happy with my day job.                  

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