Group work and in-class writing

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Hey Nonny Mouse:
I'm sure I'm not the only one here completing my first week of the new semester -- surely others have classroom issues to discuss?

I like to assign group work and in-class writing in my comp and lit courses. However, one drawback is that invariably some students are "done" very quickly, while others need more time. With groups, this usually means the early finishers segue into socializing. With individual writing, I end up with half the class looking bored while the other half is still scribbling away.

I have yet to find a solution I'm entirely satisfied with.  Sometimes I'll say "you have X minutes." But when X minutes are nearly up, if much of the class is still working, it's tempting to let them work a little longer.  Sometimes I'll compromise by waiting until most of the class is done, and then say that those working should finish their current sentence and then stop. But I have misgivings about that, too.

Has anyone come up with a better way to deal with in-class work?

The Original Anonymous Adjunct:
We always start the semester with professional-development seminars for the faculty.  Although I'm an adjunct, I go to them because they are very helpful and good opportunities to catch up with colleagues. This year, a faculty project was presented on peer-led learning techniques. It was mostly as it applied to science subjects, but most instructors believe it can be applied to other disciplines.

There are many creative ways to approach it, and although I'm not an expert, I can see the possibilities that might be applied to many types of situations. For example, I've been watching a couple of my students to see how they're acting -- bored, finishing early, skipping classes, etc. I may ask them to be class "helpers" because I believe they have the ability to be leaders.  

I may also devise some group projects, but from what I've heard from the presentation, the projects have to be fairly well planned. What is very important is to determine up front what your goals are and what strategy you will use to achieve them. Just letting them loose into groups doesn't always work very well because of the lack of clear parameters. Also, the groups need leaders to keep them all "on task," another element that benefits from advance planning.

They showed us statistics for academic improvement and retention -- the numbers increased significantly when the peer-led practices were used. The instructor still needs to be very active, but the role shifts a bit to being more of a resource and mentor.

Anyway, my suggestion for writing projects as seen through the eyes of an art instructor: Give them projects that progressively build and break them into small parts. Guide them through the process a few times until they get the hang of it. State clear goals for each step and have advanced class helpers assist the slower students.  

Cheers,

Anonymous Adjunct

Mark Maller:
Regarding the first message, here is what I do in that situation. When some students finish earlier than others, I look at their work and briefly critique it ,so they have to return to it. If that doesn't work (because they may have done a fine job or don't want to continue) then I hand out a quick and easy assignment that I do not count ( or you can count it as extra credit). It's "busy work," but make sure it doesn't look like that. This technique used to work for me when I taught high school.

Hummcc:
I teach developmental English, English 101 and 102. I have experienced the same time challenges in writing. Three times during the term, we have peer-editing sessions. I tell the students that for the next 35 minutes they will proofread one to three classmates' papers. I want them to make as many helpful suggestions as possible in this time frame.

This activity can help students improve their final drafts before I assign letter grades. The slower students typically proofread one paper, and those who are adept at grammar and writing edit two to three papers. It is a win-win situation. While I am walking around each row helping any student who needs assistance, I am able to help those who need more one-on-one assistance a little longer because the students who excel are helping two to three others.

Also, several times during the term, I assign in-class journal writings. I tell them I am giving them the gift of time and the freedom to write freely about the topic on the board. I tell the students they have the next 20 mintues to write one to two pages double-spaced. They receive a perfect score just for writing one to two pages. These are the only writings I don't edit word for word. The purpose is to practice whatever technique in writing I have discussed in a non-threatening manner. They may leave when they have completed the assignment.

The students who are faster finish in 10-15 mintues. They are happy to have some extra minutes to walk from one class to another, have a smoke, eat a snack, or chat with other students. Usually, 10 percent of the class uses up the entire time. Occassionally in the developmental course, I will have one or two students who cannot finish in 20 minutes. I will stay after class if possible or accept the paper at the next session. I can determine from these writings which students need extra help in with their writing technique. I ask the students who need more work if they would prefer to work a little more with me during my office hours or if they would prefer a peer tutor.

You could give a flexible assignment with one to three options or have group/individual writing assignments toward the end of the class session.

Tony Dragon:
To the adjunct who teaches art: I am interested in talking to you. I teach the same subject and would be interested in exchanging ideas and opinions. My email is todd@tdrake.com

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