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Inviting Eli to Your Class

This post originally appeared on Bill Hart-Davidson‘s blog for his course Teaching with Technology (AL 841).

I am thrilled that this Fall semester, many fellow teachers will be using Eli Review in their classrooms for the first time. Thanks for giving it a try! We are excited to help out in any way that we can. Our colleagues often ask Jeff, Mike, & I “how do we get the best results using Eli right from the start?” In this post, I’ll answer that by suggesting a couple of ways of thinking about Eli as a new resource. And I’ll also suggest a few specific things to do to help you see the value of Eli right away.

1. Think of Eli as a window on students’ writing and reviewing process

It’s true that Eli is a service that streamlines the process of doing peer review. Students can easily exchange work and offer feedback to one another, guided by teachers’ prompts. But Eli is not merely meant to streamline workflow during review.

Eli allows teachers to set up write, review, and revise cycles and track students’ progress through them. This means that Eli is a service that supports all of writing instruction, not just that bit in the middle where students’ review each other’s work. Two things follow from this, for me, as a teacher. One is when in the process I give writers feedback.  With Eli, my guidance comes after each writer has

  1. shared a draft in Eli (write)
  2. received feedback from peers (review) and
  3. compiled their feedback and a reflection in a revision plan (revise)

I still read each students’ draft, but now I also have a much clearer idea what they are planning to do next because I can see their revision plan and feedback. As a result, my feedback is more focused: I can adjust their revision priorities if need be, or simply encourage them to go ahead with a solid plan if they have one. To illustrate, let’s look at a snapshot from an individual students’ review report. Eli shows me how the student did and how he compares with the rest of the group. This student we will call “Jeremy” is doing rather well:

When I look at these results and read his draft, I know what to say to Jeremy. What would you say?

The second thing is that now, for a typical assignment, I might do 4 or 5 Write-Review-Revise cycles. I start with something short, like a prompt for the student to do a one paragraph “pitch” that glosses their key argument and supporting evidence for an argumentative essay. Next I might ask students to submit a precis’ that summarizes a key secondary source. Third we might look at a “line of argument” or detailed outline. Fourth is a full draft in rough form.

The prompts for reviewers in each cycle would ask  students to focus on matters appropriate to that stage of the writing process. So we would leave matters of attributing source materials accurately in MLA style until cycle four, but we would address accurate paraphrasing in cycle two when students are preparing a precis.

I usually try to have one or two cycles per week in a typical course, which is enough to keep students focused on drafting, reviewing, and revising consistently throughout a project (as opposed to doing everything at the end).

2. Think of Eli as a means to adjust your teaching priorities on the fly

So what do multiple cycles, each with a detailed review report buy you as a teacher? Something nearly magical happens when, during a review, I make sure that I explicitly align my learning goals for a particular project with the review response prompts I give to students.

Here’s what the magic looks like. The data below come from reviewers’ combined responses to two scaled items – like survey questions – that I included as part of a review of rough drafts of an analytic essay.

Note that the prompts are things I hope to see my students doing by this point. These are things we’ve been talking about and practicing in class. Seeing these results, I know what to spend more time on. Not everybody is using secondary source material well just yet. But I also see which students are doing well. I’ll have them lead our discussion.

But how do we get from a writing assignment to a review that gives me this kind of real-time feedback to guide instructional priorities? Let’s go through that process using a writing assignment – a real one from a course my colleague was teaching called “Writing and the Environment.” This is a prompt for one of the short weekly response papers students were asked to write:

Write a response to the chapters from Walden by Emerson. Your response should  consider the work itself as well as the historical context of the message. What did it  mean for Emerson to write this book? to write it when he did? These should not be simple summaries of the essays/chapter. Instead they should be  a comment on what YOU THINK and/or FEEL in response to the week’s  texts.  What main ideas stuck with you and why? What questions did they raise for  you?  What made you wonder? Did you agree, disagree? Were you inspired, angered, encouraged, surprised?  

Thinking ahead to the review report we want to see as the instructor – the one that aggregates information for the whole class – we are interested to know which response papers have the traits mentioned in the assignment description above. These traits match up with my colleauge’s learning goals for this particular point in the course. She wanted students to engage Emerson’s text not only as a work of creative non-fiction, but as part of an evolving, historical dialogue in the U.S. that has shaped our understanding of the environment and society’s relationship(s) to it.

So one of the key learning outcomes for the Emerson weekly response is related to seeing Emerson’s writing as a product of its time and as an influence on what came after. Another is less specific to that week and that particular reading because it applies to all of the readings, and it is the ability to not merely sum up what was said, but to explain how the views of the writer changed over the course of the narrative (and to attribute those changes to the writers’ experiences).

So, with these goals in mind, I’ll set up the review prompt like this:

Read the essay and check the box to indicate if the writer has done the following things:

  • include facts that accurately place the work in its historical context
  • explain the change(s) in perspective the author underwent
  • explain the experiences Emerson had that inspired his thinking
  • include thoughts of the writer (not only a summary of Emerson’s thoughts)

What this will give us in the review report is a snapshot of how often reviewers notice these features in the drafts they read. We can see, too, which individual writers did well in comparison to the larger group and this will give us a source of samples to discuss in class. But most importantly as the instructor, I can use this – along with my own reading of the drafts – to adjust my plans about what to discuss in class. If only 30% of the drafts discussed Emerson’s changes in perspective, for instance, that can become the most important thing to address in the next class meeting.

You might be wondering, at this point, “where’s the revision part of this cycle?” Well, for these short response papers, which help students process readings, we might not ask for revised versions to be turned in. But if I’m the instructor, I’d still use the revision plan task in Eli anyway, like this revision plan prompt:

You will have a chance to write on this topic again for your synthesis essay.  Gather the feedback that was most helpful for you from the peer review  round and reflect on the ways you might re-read Emerson, do additional  research, or revise your responses. Write a note to your future self about what you can do to score well on the exam with a similar writing task.

Once students have submitted their revision plans, what I see, as the teacher, is a set of materials that includes their original draft, all the feedback they received from peers, all the feedback they gave to others, and their revision plan with reflections on what they can improve upon in their next opportunity to write about Emerson. This is what I comment on, offering advice that adjusts or reinforces priorities to help them focus on the areas of greatest need.

A final thought: Write, Review, Revise…Repeat!

With Eli, my approach to teaching writing has not really changed very much. But my execution – my ability to see, understand, and offer feedback on students’ writing process has improved dramatically. I make more decisions and give more feedback based on evidence than I did in the past.

Students’ work during peer review, on the other hand, changes tremendously with Eli. It is, quite simply, far better. So are their revision plans and revised drafts. With better (and more) feedback, I see better writing. It is that simple.

Inviting Eli to Your Class was published to the Eli Review Blog in the category Pedagogy.

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