A classroom experiment in 3 parts
Who? A group of teenagers getting ready to take CAE exam in the near future.
What? A writing task – an informal email to a friend asking for some advice.
Why? My students tend to write below their actual abilities – they are busy and overworked, tired after school, getting ready for state exams and generally have too stressful lives filled by too many must-dos to worry about their writing tasks.
Experiment Day 1
A close look at the task, brainstorming ideas for each paragraph, organising them, making a plan of the first draft, writing the first draft, handing it in.
(Disclaimer: Yes, I know, writing in class may be a no-no if all you do is say ‘write’. If you weave the whole lesson around it and writing the draft is just putting together all the things students came up with during the lesson – the writing itself takes 15mins tops and might be one of the not many ways at our disposal of ensuring EVERYBODY actually writes the task. And who has not spent a quarter of an hour of a lesson on things much less useful and important than writing – feel free to cast a stone at me at your earliest convenience, but do read on.)
Experiment Day 2
First drafts given back. No notes, no comments, no feedback from me. Students exchanging “she’s finally lost it, should we call someone?” looks.
5mins to take a look at your own first draft with a set of fresh eyes (who remembers what they wrote last week, come on!). Search for and correct inaccuracies, look at the task once again and make sure what you have in front of you fulfills all the requirements. Rephrase fragments if you feel there’s a need for more serious an intervention.
Everybody gets two post-it notes.
Hand over your first draft after corrections to the person on your left.
3mins to read someone’s email and put your comments and suggestions on one of the post-it notes. 3mins are up – stick your post-it to the back of the page (so the second reviewer can’t see your feedback) and hand the email over to the person sitting on the writer’s right. Another 3mins, the same procedure.
All the drafts with the post-it comments on the other side get back to me.
I take photos of the first draft after the slight corrections made by its author. I take photos of the post-its of two feedback-givers. And finally, the photo of my own feedback that also fits on a post-it note (max 3mins per text). Then, all four pieces of paper get back to the author of the email. Why? Because the next step is writing the second draft at home, using all the suggestions on post-its and handing it in the next time we meet.
Experiment Day 3
And this second draft is the draft I check and comment on properly. But we also have a look together at the first version of the text. And focus on how the improvements changed the effectiveness of the text and the grade it deserves on Cambridge Advanced English writing scale (see CAE Handbook). Conclusions? The difference is clearly visible, proving that caring and going the extra mile is worth it.
Conclusions/feedforward for me (and you)
- Most of the comments were insightful, showed attention to detail (who would have thought?!) and were written in a polite and gentle way, but no stone was left unturned and if someone mixed up advice and advise at least one of the peer reviewers mentioned that.
- An invaluable experience for my students – they really got into helping each other improve their texts and working harder than usual on their own, more aware of the slips and errors they make.
- Much less checking for me.
- Dozens of exam tasks? No. Fewer tasks. But done properly.