Polydisciplinary Perspectives on Peer Practices, III

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In my last post, I talked about the oral workshop in the creative writing classroom, drawing from my conversations with my colleagues in creative writing here at FAU, Papatya Bucak and Becka McKay.  But both of them also use an out-of-class written critique to complement the oral workshop.  In this post, I want to share some insights about that element of peer critique in creative writing.


The first thing that strikes me about Becka and Papatya’s instructions on commenting is the level of personal investment, something I struggle to ignite in the FYC classroom (a topic that I will discuss in detail in the next post).  Given that struggle I took special note of the small ways in which both of them encourage students to care about each other’s writing.


For example, both Becka and Papatya ask students to sign their written comments, a practice I’ve never tried in the writing classroom and one that I think I will, as it makes the process more personal and conversational between the students.  Asking students to sign feels like a small move, but I am betting it will reap some interesting rewards in the FYC classroom, particularly in terms of investment when it comes to both writing and commenting on writing.


Another practice I noticed in the handouts they give students is a direct encouragement to students to not only do their best, but also to be their best.  In referencing commenting on manuscripts, Becka’s handout states: “I am always very disappointed when students do very little commenting on each other’s poems. Be the person who does better.”  Papatya’s handout does something similar: “Don’t be the person who hands the writer an unmarked manuscript.”  Implicit in these evocations to be better is not only an invitation to be the best student / person / commenter but an understanding that students can be the best student / person / commenter.  It’s an affirmation of the students’ potential that I think I might find useful in the FYC classroom.


Both also use what I might consider a “sandwich” type approach; I use something similar when I comment on papers and I often incorporate it into many of my peer revision worksheets.  This much, at least, we share across our disciplines.  The “sandwich” in their handouts consists of praise or neutral comments first then subjective comments second; my “sandwiches” are similar, consisting of praise and then critique and then a final slice of praise. Becka’s handout also makes clear why we use this order: “the neutral comments should come first and the criticism should come last—writers receive information better that way.”  Papatya adds a great insight that I think I will incorporate: “Since we are reading in-progress manuscripts, they should be treated as such—that means delicately and respectfully, but also critically.”


It’s wonderful to see these common elements of peer commenting across disciplines and also to see the small moves both of my colleagues make to remind students that they are capable of great commenting, and thus also expected to provide great commenting.  Both of them read student comments to hold them accountable and to offer feedback on commenting, a practice I often do as well.


I love one instruction that Becka included, which I will definitely steal: “It’s fun to read other people’s writing.  Don’t forget that.” Indeed.  I am delighted to remind students that even FYC can be fun.  And I shall duly so so.


In the next post, I will turn to some of the challenges I discussed with my colleagues but, in the meantime, if you have insights to share on what I’ve posted here, comment away!

About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.