This semester I am a TA for and English literature class on Women on the Plantation. Essentially, we read works from many genres (journals, letters, narratives, etc.) from and about plantation mistresses and slave women during the Antebellum period to the beginnings of Reconstruction. Whew, that was a mouthful. Today though, I didn’t talk much, because today was the peer review workshop for their first paper.
This was a different experience for me. While I’m used to leading discussions, lecturing, or splitting up students for short group activities, I’ve never structured the entirety of class around students helping each other write. I can’t take the entirety of the credit for organizing this class, since my professor had a solid review and revision checklist. I did however, present, explain, and aid the workshop.
Usually I get really nervous when I turn students loose for too long. When you invite them to discuss, it can sometimes turn to off-topic chatter. To deal with this, I migrated from group to group to listen in (something I rarely have the courage to do), only interjecting if they were silent, had questions, or if they were having trouble. I found that with sparse but strategic involvement on my part, I could re-enliven the discussion and guide their thoughts back to the task at hand. Off-topic chatter isn’t all bad though–it allows students to get to know each other and to talk about things that interest them, which is crucial to fostering an safe environment for students to voice their opinions.
Although this class boosted my confidence as a teacher, I think there were a couple things I could do to improve the next workshop. I think I’m going to keep my professor’s suggestion of making students bring in one copy for each author to read aloud and an extra copy for two peer reviewers to follow along and make notes. Instead of letting them choose their groups every time, it might be best to assign them to groups at random or put certain students together strategically for scaffolding. This helps students learn a wider variety of writing techniques and allows them to communicate with more of their fellow classmates. I also think it might be a good idea to have each student bring in a short memo detailing their purpose, audience, main points/main techniques in with their rough drafts so that their peers can understand where they are coming from. I’ve done this in professional writing classes, but I think it could be adapted well in the English literature classroom.
Well that’s all folks. If I get another sudden burst of creativity, I’ll keep you posted.