Abby Bajuniemi earned a PhD in Hispanic and Lusophone Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics from the University of Minnesota in 2015. Her dissertation focused on the longitudinal acquisition of oral linguistic complexity and accuracy in the intermediate Spanish classroom. She taught all levels of Spanish language and Linguistics during her graduate program and for two and a half years as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Macalester College. She is currently on a User Experience Research and Design team at CH Robinson, where she’s using her research and teaching skills to improve technology. She also facilitates workshops for the business and has moved into public speaking within the UX (User Experience) and Content Strategy spaces. In this blog, Abby discusses one of her teaching with interactive peer editing in foreign language writing.
Interactive Peer Editing
As an undergraduate, my memories of peer editing in Spanish class are ones of boredom and dread. You pass your paper to your classmate and hope they don’t bung up your perfect Spanish prose (because you’re way better at Spanish than them, right?). Peer edit days were dry, silent, and often painful. We were either so busy correcting grammar or the grammar was such an obstacle to the content that often we got no feedback on the ideas and actual structure of our writing.
As a graduate student studying language acquisition, it was hammered into me that one should include the four modalities (listening, speaking, writing, reading) into every class as much as possible. This wasn’t possible with the “traditional” peer edit model. I continued to use this (to me) outdated model until I started my field research for my dissertation. I spent time in intermediate Spanish classrooms at a local SLAC (Small/Selective Liberal Arts College), where the professors used much more interactive models for pair and group work than I was used to. At the same time, I would overhear my colleagues (graduate students, adjuncts, and professors), lament the state of final compositions and research papers they were receiving. I wondered if there was a way I could take what I saw in the SLAC and apply it to the peer editing and writing processes to make it both more enjoyable and pedagogically sound for students as well as improve the final product that my colleagues and I were getting at the end of the term.
I was teaching Introduction to Hispanic Linguistics at the time, and my students had to write a research proposal that included an introduction, a literature review, a proposed methods section, and expected results. Each student was to take a different topic in the field of linguistics, so each student would have a different literature review and potential problem to solve. I grouped them into 3-4 students, and when making the groups, I tried to balance out students who had weaker Spanish language skills with stronger students so that the weaker students got help and the stronger students had at least one peer who could offer constructive feedback on grammar.
The basic process on peer-edit day was that each student brought two copies of their rough draft of their paper. I emphasized that it did NOT need to be done or completely fleshed out, because they would be discussing their ideas in their groups during class. The students divided into their groups, and they each were “presenter” while the other students in their group were “audience.” These sessions were timed with my iPhone. Depending on how it went, each presenter got 2-5 minutes to present with 2-5 minutes of Q&A after. The presenter did NOT read their paper out loud; rather, they described their problem, the literature review (what people previously did and found), their proposed methods, and then what they thought they might find. They could use their papers as reference, but were NOT to read from them. During this mini “presentation,” the audience would take notes and write down all their questions. When they were done, they launched into the Q&A where the audience could ask questions about any part of the paper and offer feedback on any part. This was repeated until all members had presented their ideas and gotten feedback.
It’s important to note that this happened concurrently for all groups, so it could get pretty loud in the classroom. I loved that. The students gave me terrific feedback that they LOVED how they could get real-time feedback on their ideas, the structure, their methods, etc. They shared sources, they shared ideas on how to strengthen methods such as populations they could add to their study, considerations of gender and age, etc. It was the best experience of peer editing I had ever had with a class. All of this was conducted in Spanish, by the way, and the students with weaker Spanish language skills were able to get feedback on their ideas and content and structure that they may not have gotten before. I also got feedback from students that this method gave them a sense of ownership of their ideas and their research. I should also mention that they did all of this at their desks. There was no formal presentation happening here, so it was a very relaxed environment.
But that was just part one of this process. Part two was also regimented and timed, but focused more on grammar than ideas. I wanted them to hash out the ideas first before getting tied up in grammar corrections.
Part two was sometimes conducted on a different day, especially for these larger research projects, only because of the time it took to get through the mini presentations. They again would have two copies of their papers and get into their groups of 3-4. They would first interchange one copy with one group member, and I would put a powerpoint up with ONE grammar item that they were to skim for and focus on for a certain amount of minutes. For example, I would have them look only for agreement errors, such as subject-verb, noun-adjective, etc., giving some examples on the powerpoint to model what I wanted them to do. They would do this for about 3-4 minutes, and many would not get through the entire paper in that amount of time, but that’s okay. You get an idea of the types of errors you’re making in the first paragraph or two. I would then move on to the next item, which could be use of a specific verb form like preterite vs. imperfect. Same thing–a couple minutes to skim for these types of errors, then move to the next thing. After they’ve gone through this with all the grammar points I want them specifically to focus on, I ask them to find the thesis and underline it. If no thesis, comment on that. Finally, I give them about 15 minutes to read the paper (not skimming anymore) for other grammar errors or content or structure errors they didn’t find with previous steps. I then have them write at least one thing the writer did really well as well as at least one item that needs some work before the next draft. If there is time, I will have them then exchange copy 2 with a different person and go through this again. If I’m short on time, but I want them to get the benefit of a second set of eyes, I will just have them find the thesis and read through the paper.
Again, this method was wildly popular with my students, and I used it in classes from Spanish 101 to upper division courses in linguistics. I also noticed a clear improvement in the quality of the papers I was receiving at the end of the term, and less absenteeism on peer edit days (it helps I docked them points if they weren’t there). If this seems complicated, it kind of is. However, it gets way easier the more you do it, and the students get into it and look forward to it. I hope this is helpful for some early career (or established!) professors and teachers.