Chris Sloan (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) is a teacher at Judge Memorial High School in Salt Lake City, where he teaches AP English Language and Composition. He’s relatively new to Eli Review, using it for the first time in Spring 2016, but he’s already had great results using it and describes it as the “getting there” of good writing.
Chris shares how Eli Review’s approach to pedagogy compliments what he already knew worked and a few tips for colleagues using the app for the first time.
What motivated you to try Eli Review?
I’m a teacher and a researcher, so I’m familiar with the benefits of peer review from a couple of different perspectives. I heard about Eli Review from a friend of mine, Troy Hicks. We were talking about effective ways to teach writing; he said I should check out Eli Review. Glad I did.
How did Eli help you accomplish your goals?
As a writing teacher, one of my core beliefs is that if my students are only getting feedback from me, they’re not getting enough feedback. For years face-to-face peer review conducted in class was one way I tried to accomplish this. But Eli Review gave me another way to group my classes asynchronously.
I teach four face-to-face sections of a high school AP English Language and Composition class. Through Eli Review I was able to remix them into three online sections, so that each peer response group consisted of four students, one from each of the face-to-face sections.
This structure allowed for anonymous peer review, which created a different dynamic than the face-to-face feedback my students are accustomed to. In face-to-face settings students can be reluctant to provide critical feedback to their peers because they might be afraid of being rejected for having different opinions, or out of fear of being wrong. Another reason students might not provide quality feedback is that they might not have been taught how to be critical. Research by Zhao (1998) showed that students are more honest and critical in anonymous peer review.
However, anonymity in some online spaces has its downsides. If a writer’s identity is unknown that can result in “social loafing” where people feel less responsible to think critically about the text. Anonymity can also lead to more uninhibited text, which can be good if it’s honest and constructive, but this can also result in behaviors like trolling. I didn’t experience any of these negative results in Eli Review because the difference between truly anonymous web forums and Eli Review is that the students are known to the teacher, just not to each other.
The first time using any new strategy or tool can be difficult. What were your challenges, and how did you work through them?
My students and I thought the interface was pretty intuitive. The support staff were awesome; I had a few questions (usually right as class was about to start), and they got right on it.
What makes you confident that students are learning more using Eli?
They were engaged in the work every time we worked in Eli Review. I could tell because if a student hadn’t completed a review during a set time I could see that in the engagement data, and then check in with them before class time ended. And there’s something about the interface that emphasizes the “unfinishedness” of writing that workshopping with paper copies of student writing doesn’t always provide.
Some of the students also paid attention to their helpfulness rating and thought about trying to improve the ratings from their peers.
Has working with Eli changed how you teach?
It’s helped me remember the importance of process. When I first started teaching about 30 years ago, the teaching of writing was all about process. Somehow through the years there has been more of an emphasis on product. Of course the end product should be good, but Eli Review facilitates the “getting there” of good writing.
What tip would you give an instructor using Eli for the first time?
Start small. Do iterations of writing in smaller tasks. Provide peer review activities for individual paragraphs, transitions, and conclusions, for example, instead of having students do one round of feedback for an entire research paper.
Incorporate the data generated by Eli Review into your actual teaching of composition. For example in class I would show feedback that was highly rated and some of the lowest rated (all de-identified of course). Then we would talk about what made better feedback at that particular time. Participating in peer review helps writers improve.
Zhao, Y. (1998). The effects of anonymity on computer-mediated peer review.International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 4(4), 311-345.