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NBA Skills Challenge and Peer Reviews

This past weekend saw special events surrounding the NBA’s All-Star Game. NBA All-Star Saturday Night has a Skills Challenge before the famous Three-Point Shootout and Slam Dunk Contest. In the Skills Challenge, point guards run an obstacle course in which they have to pass the ball through hoops, shoot, and dribble around faux defenders. I was thinking about classes while I was watching. I think about classes a lot.

Last week we spent a good deal of time in peer-review workshops: Students were helping one another with their essay drafts before final revisions were due. Peer reviews never seem to go as well as I envision them. I have subscribed to a little saying that I can’t get students to take to heart: Value evaluation. I know they want to write well and to get good grades and all that. Deep down, they may even want to help one another. A handful of students display that desire. But on the whole, I would say students don’t value evaluation.

In the NBA Skills Challenge, it’s easy to see from very early on who’s going to be in the running for the trophy. It’s all about attitude. All the players have the talent, and, in real games, they all play hard. But on this stage, with the bright spotlight on, with everybody looking and judging, a few players put on an air of what the NBA commentator Kenny (The Jet) Smith calls “too cool for school.” Their turn comes up, and they try to look cool as they glide through the obstacles, usually with slick grins on their faces. The few who can get beyond the bright lights, who can run hard and sweat it out without caring about how they look, are the ones who make it to the final round.

In peer-review sessions, the pressure is on the students. They have to judge and be judged, and too many of them put on the “too cool for school” air (many have the same attitude at other times, but I see it most during peer-review sessions). Like the point guards in the Skills Challenge, it’s the students who don’t care how they look who seem to get the most out of peer reviews, or out of class in general.

I try to create an atmosphere that is comfortable, but peer-review workshops are an instance when my efforts to make students comfortable just aren’t enough. It’s a challenge I have yet to overcome. The good news is, I may now have a reason to watch some basketball clips in class.

How do you get students to value evaluation, especially when that evaluation is from other students?

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