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Monday, December 3, 2012

Peer Editing for Reflective Writing in a Community Service Learning Course

Writing is an integral part of Spanish community service learning.
by Ann Abbott

When we think about the Spanish undergraduate curriculum, we tend to focus on teaching writing in one course: students take "composition" and we're done. Of course students write papers throughout the curriculum, but the composition course bears the brunt of the work for teaching students how to write, and how to write in Spanish.

Spanish community service learning (CSL) also relies heavily on writing--specifically in the form of reflective writing.

The truth is, as we know, that we need to teach and re-teach writing in every single course. Furthermore, the type of writing we ask students to do--reflective essays--is a form that is, as far as I know, never taught in a typical composition course. Narrative, persuasive and analytical writing, yes. Reflective writing, no.

This topic deserves much more attention than I can give it here. But I this afternoon I attended a talk given by Florencia Henshaw about her research on peer editing in a fifth-semester grammar course. During the question and answer period I asked her what her thoughts were about peer editing in longer pieces of writing (like our students produce in "Spanish in the Community").

Here are her ideas:
  • Her students, she said, were more comfortable giving anonymous feedback about their peer's Spanish, rather than face-to-face. She found a way to make that happen using our course management system. Perhaps you can find a way to do anonymous peer editing in your CSL course.
  • You should ask students to give peer feedback about only one "category" at a time. For example, ask them to only concentrate on "structure and organization" not "content, structure and grammar." 
  • Given the type of essay they are writing (or the reflective prompt they are responding to), ask them to focus on common errors. For example, if it is a persuasive essay stating their opinions and you know there are likely to be many errors in the subjunctive, focus on that.
I have found all of her advice to be true. In general, you need to treat peer editing like any other lesson plan you prepare for your students. It needs to be structured, guided and task-oriented.

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