Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

Perfecting Peer Editing

by Dana Loewy, the Guffey Team

Many studies point to the benefits of peer editing, but I admit to sometimes having my doubts after seeing the results of peer editing sessions in my lower division classes. However, I’ve come up with a series of steps that result in better outcomes.

Step 1  I collect first drafts and skim the content without grading. Instead, I compile a list of the most common misunderstandings and errors, such as lack of comprehension of the assignment, format, or mechanics. After the session, I e-mail or post the revision tips, or I bring them to the editing session, depending on the course format, online or in-class.

Step 2 I scramble the unmarked first drafts and distribute them among students so that no one reviews his or her own document. I tell the students to look for specific features, but not all at once. Rather, I announce the feature to examine, say, format. I request that they mark up the document. Then I give students time to evaluate the layout and formatting and invite questions, answering them when they are relevant. Such instances present a wonderful teachable moment! We move from feature to feature so students read the document looking only at the single element we are scrutinizing. Students are engaged and actively learning.

Step 3  When we’ve gone through all the elements, I ask each editor to jot down 2-3 positive aspects of the document they reviewed and 2-3 aspects that needed improvement. Time permitting, I ask students to pass on the reviewed documents two seats down to a second editor, again making sure that no one revises his or her own writing.

Step 4  After the second round of editing, the marked-up documents are returned to their authors, who complete their revisions at home and bring the second draft to the next class session—with the marked-up first draft stapled to the revised version.

This staged editing procedure has many benefits for students. Because they more readily find errors in their peers’ writing than in their own, reading other students’ writing provides them with perspective on their own work. Likewise, students benefit from my instructions directing them to pay attention to specific elements I’ll be evaluating when I grade the assignment.

For instructors, the plusses of this process are also clear. Most important, I find the work I grade much improved. Additionally, students appreciate the “freebie” of being able to revise their writing at home—they even view me as more supportive to their efforts, a real bonus! From a pedagogical standpoint, the guided revision puts the onus on students to do the work. And while some go to the writing center where they may receive too much help, they are learning, which is what counts!

Ultimately, I have found that peer editing can be an invaluable teaching tool.


How do you incorporate peer editing into your classroom? Share your stories

Secrets to Successful Group Work

by Janet Mizrahi, The Guffey Team, UCSB Writing Program

My program is committed to including a major group project into the curriculum of our introductory business communication course, and after teaching this assignment for 17 years, I’ve learned that the secret to positive team experiences lies in guiding students while they learn by doing. That, however, requires specific pedagogical strategies.

Below are some tactics you can weave into your own teaching when you include a group project in your curriculum.

“Sell” the project. Be enthusiastic about the benefits of group work by listing its benefits: more bodies to share the workload, diverse opinions and experiences to add varying perspectives, and different individual skills that result in a better end product. When touting the “real life” aspect of the assignment, mention that the collaborative experience is a great interview story to relate to a potential employer. If the team worked well together, students can explain why. If the team experience was problematic, the student can reflect on a lesson learned with real-world applications. Sharing these upsides of group work help early student buy-in to the assignment and leads to better collaborative experiences.

Choose a group formation practice. Grouping students yourself or allowing them to form their own teams are both valid practices. If you group students, you create a more realistic situation: In the workplace, we rarely choose with whom we must work. On the other hand, students who choose their own groups can better mesh schedules and work styles.

 Discuss teamwork skills and behaviors. Provide students with the background they need to be positive group leaders and productive group members. Many business communication textbooks (including Business Communication: Process & Product, 9e and Essentials of Business Communication, 11e by Guffey and Loewy) contain helpful sections about these topics. You can also provide handouts or point to online resources that offer advice to positive team behaviors.

Make students accountable. Some experts recommend team charters as a way to improve group participation. Such documents spell out responsibilities and consequences for not meeting those responsibilities.

Include strategies to deal with underperformers. Students often complain about “slackers” when naming what they dislike about group work, so it’s a good idea to have some practices in place for dealing with this issue. I ask students to assess their group experience in a letter or e-mail as a way for team members to vent steam, and so I learn about how the group worked as a unit. Students are asked to numerically rate themselves and their peers on specific behaviors (attends meetings, adds to meetings, meets deadlines, etc.) and discuss performance and that of their teammates in a narrative. These documents play a part in the final grade I assign to individuals.

My colleagues and I have also devised an escape clause of sorts: Teams may “fire” a member (after discussing it with the instructor) if they have proof that the member has not responded to attempts to confront his or her lack of participation. I back this up with an alternative assignment to write a 10-page research paper about the benefits of teamwork in the workplace. That seems to be enough to encourage active participation because I’ve never had a team activate the escape clause.

Provide class time for group collaboration. My colleague Gina Genova and I collaborated on a two-year study to help us define what our students saw as impediments to working in groups. We were surprised to learn that the biggest problem was making time to meet outside of class. Accordingly, we started allowing students to collaborate in class most days, at least for a few minutes. It’s a big help, students tell us.

Assign scaffolding exercises. Work plans, progress reports, Gantt charts, and rough drafts that build up to the final project are great ways to help students stay on track. Teach students to break up the project into a series of steps that lead to the end product, and help them manage their time by highlighting important due dates in your syllabus.

Group work is never easy for student and teacher alike. However, we can improve everyone’s experience if we provide students with some basic strategies for working well with others.

How do you guide your students through group work? Share your thoughts and ideas!



Hooking Students in First Five Minutes of Class

Have you ever tried to start class only to be greeted by sounds of unzipping backpacks and chattering classmates? Sometimes coaxing students to focus at the beginning of class can be a challenge. However, we miss a golden opportunity to create an engaging atmosphere that inspires active learning if we let those first minutes slip by.

Although we all have days when we must begin with routine announcements or other business, you may want to consider some alternative strategies to grab students’ attention immediately—and keep it.

Begin with questions. Try projecting several questions about the day’s topic for students to think about as they seat themselves. For example, say the day’s lesson will focus on the direct organizational strategy. Questions that might encourage students to think about the lesson could be Why do many colleges use the direct strategy when sending rejection letters? or Do you ever have a difficult time finding specific information in an e-mail? Questions from the previous night’s homework can also prepare students for attentive behavior.

Review material. Help students recall what they learned in the prior class by asking them to volunteer specific ideas or concepts. Write their responses on the board, making sure to revise for accuracy, and use the exercise as a segue into new material. If you take roll, you can ask students to respond with a fact they took away from the last class session when you call each name.

Assign quick writes. A low-stakes writing exercise helps cement new ideas and retrieve prior knowledge. (It’s not necessary to collect the papers as long as you monitor students’ activity to ensure they stay on task.) Just the act of writing—especially in writing courses—helps students transition to the classroom, where they are expected to think and focus. Try asking the class to compose a tweet that encapsulates a learning objective or to write a quick summary of a news item you exhibit.

Create a loop of slides. Put together a series of slides that feature course-related content for the day, multiple-choice questions, quotes from readings, or fill-in-the-blank sentences. Or you might want to remind students of due dates or long-term project milestones they should be thinking about.

Practice grammar. The first few minutes of a class session are a great time to present a quick grammar lesson that becomes part of a midterm or quiz. Starting these lessons the first minutes of class can encourage students to arrive on time, too!

Allow teams to collaborate. If you have a group project, allow teams the first minutes of class to catch up with one another, even if it’s just to discuss a time to meet outside of class. Students will become engaged instantly if they’re working together.

The semester flies by, so taking advantage of those first minutes of class to reinforce learning makes a lot of sense!

What do you do to make the most of the beginning of your classes? Start a conversation!