In Which I Brag About My Students

This semester, I’ve been blogging on my undergrad methods seminar. In the past month since my last post, they’ve begun their research in earnest and our class sessions have turned into research time. If I haven’t been too busy with the class this past month, my students have been extremely busy. I’ve really enjoyed meeting with them all one on one as they’ve been figuring out their research questions and zeroing in on their theses. From very general topics (the Civil Rights Movement from the Civil War to yesterday! Intersectionality!) they have worked on getting more specific and have found really fascinating topics that are going to make great papers. I am genuinely looking forward to reading them, which is not something I get to say all that often when I’m grading.

This week, we’ve reconvened for two days of presentations. Drafts are due tomorrow, and we will spend the next two weeks in peer review.

Peer review is usually built into these courses, and I’m very glad that it is. As I certainly know from my own writing, things only get better when I get an extra set of eyes telling me when I make sense or not.

By the magic of class chemistry, they have randomly divided themselves into something like clusters of particular themes. I have 3 students writing on things about international reform, 3 students writing about race and gender in reform movements, 3 students writing about women’s history topics, 3 on conservatism, and so on. This was not planned by me at all, and I was quite worried earlier in the semester about how I would group them for the peer review sessions. I’m delighted that I have students who can talk with each other about similar sources and swap ideas about the specific content of their papers.

In three sessions, we will be meeting in these groups of three (and 2 groups of 4), and each student will have a whole day to be the focus of discussion. Each of the group members will read the paper and fill out a worksheet before class, and they will then come together to discuss the paper. I will also be reading all drafts, and checking in on the peer review sessions as they go.

I explained the assignment for them this way:

You will fill out one of these worksheets for EACH member of your group, and they will help to structure your discussion in the peer review sessions. Please remember to be constructive in your comments. Think about what types of feedback you would like to receive yourself to help make your paper as strong as possible. Remember two things. First, in research we are often so wrapped up in our own thinking, that we can assume that certain lines are connected and points made that exist in our head but aren’t actually on the page yet. Peer review can help us to identify those points that need revision. Second, it is often in reading the work of others that we can learn to identify areas of improvement in our own writing. In other words, both receiving feedback on your writing and reviewing the work of others will help you to improve your papers. All writers, at all stages in their lives, can benefit from feedback from peers. You will also receive extensive comments on drafts from the professor.

I’m really looking forward to these discussions. It’s a great group of students, and a great group of topics, and I’m pretty proud of what they’re coming up with. Here’s to the peer review process, and to the hopes of really extraordinary papers by the time the semester is over and they hand in their revisions

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