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I am endlessly fascinated by the diversity of our discipline. Biology is, mostly, biology. I imagine that while introductory biology courses at different schools might use different textbooks and perhaps slightly different approaches to teaching, the “stuff” of biology pretty much remains the same, and so I would also imagine it to be for most content based courses.
In contrast, FYC courses are diversely shaped by a broad spectrum of composition theories and pedagogical approaches, as well as very local contingencies and bureaucracies. For example, FYC at my school, Florida Atlantic University, is shaped not only by my history within the field, but also by various Florida state laws governing the core curriculum within the state university system; by the mandates of our university’s accrediting body, SACSCOC; and by the very local policies of our college and school. Our field feels almost Vulcan to me, sometimes.
But what’s equally fascinating to me are the near-universal practices of our field that are endorsed again and again, despite our various pedagogical allegiances. And peer revision strikes me as one of the most universal of these. Certainly there is a large body of critical literature touching on peer practices (of various names, including peer review, peer critique, peer response, peer evaluation, peer feedback, and more).
Peer review, as we call it here at FAU, has been on my mind lately and for a rather unique reason. I’ve just spent a year chairing the department of Visual Arts and Art History (through a curious series of events that has much to say about the relationship between writing program administration and academic administration), where I was duly exposed to the practice of critique. Learning about critique reminded me of the on-again, off-again conversations I’ve had with creative writers in my department about practices of workshopping. Lately, I’ve been wondering what these related peer practices might have to offer to teachers of writing.
Our diversity is a strength, of that I am sure. Our broad affirmation of peer feedback is similarly a strength, for I have seen certainly the difference it can make in student writing. But what if we were to push the boundaries of our diversity? What if we were to look at our common practices from a standpoint completely outside the FYC classroom?
In this series of posts, I’ll be talking to colleagues across the university to learn about how peer practices take place in their disciplines and to consider what we might learn from those practices and bring back to the writing classroom.
Next week, we’ll start close to home by thinking about how workshopping takes place in the creative writing classroom. In the meantime, I invite you to initiate your own conversation with colleagues in other departments at your school. If you should discover a new perspective on peer feedback, I hope you will share it with all of us here.
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