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WC Peer Review Blog

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Peer Review Blog Post
Summative Assignment

Course:The Briton’s Britain: Constructing Medieval England
Course Type:
First-Year Writing Seminar
Spring 2017

Description: This summative writing assignment comes at the end of a section of the semester with a heavy focus on accessible writing and responding to secondary literature.  The assignment assessed students’ ability to engage in constructive historical debate, and to write informally with precision for a broad public audience.  

Essay Prompt: Peer Review Blog Post Essay

After returning students’ third paper to them with comments and grades, I gave them one of their classmate’s papers as well. Their assignment was to write a response to their classmate’s work, structured as a blog post and posted to the shared blog section of the class Blackboard page.  They needed to either argue against the claims of their classmate’s paper, or build on its conclusions and evidence.  In either instance, students needed to produce an original response that engaged in an intellectual conversation with their classmate’s work. Their paper needed to be written as a blog post.

Importantly, this type of assignment only works towards the end of the semester, in a classroom when we have established and practiced a culture of respect for the whole term. Students need to trust that their peers will treat their work fairly, and they need to believe that their own critiques of their assigned classmate will be taken constructively. If that trust is not present, or if this assignment comes too early in the semester, two outcomes are likely: 1) students will not feel free to fully explore and challenge the ideas in their assigned paper; 2) there will be a chilling effect on in-class discussions, as students become less willing to expose themselves to critique. For this class in Spring 2017, I had an alternate assignment in case the necessary level of trust had not developed.

Learning Outcomes: As a result of completing this assignment, students will demonstrate the ability to summarize complex arguments; respond productively to a peer’s scholarship; and  write with control in an informal medium.

Rationale:  In addition to the above Learning Outcomes, I set this assignment for the following reasons:

  1. To give experience in public history. The assignment allows students to gain experience producing scholarly work in a publicly-accessible style. And it gives them a sense that historical writing — and history — is something that they can produce in their lives, even if they do not become historians. 
  2. To provide additional feedback. As a result of this assignment, students received an additional piece of feedback on their writing. Peer critique often carries a different kind of weight than instructor feedback, and having both types of evaluation can be beneficial to students.
  3. To provide training for peer review. The experience gives students a sense for the kind of critical approach necessary for good peer review. In this course, the assignment helped prepare students for the peer evaluation work they needed to do for the final essay of the semester.

Pertinent Scaffolding Lessons and Activities: 

  • Citations: how and why we cite our sources, and how to use Zotero
  • How to read and assess secondary literature
  • Responding to secondary literature
  • What makes a blog a blog? Platform options, and why scholars might chose self-publication over / in addition to peer-reviewed publication
  • Rewriting formal prose into informal prose (including “rewrite your last paper as a twitter thread”)

Image citation: Paris, Bibliothèque Mazarine, MS 1339, A f.014 (here)

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