A peer workshop is an activity in which students collaborate on their writing and ideas in pairs, small groups, or even the entire class. The goal is to provide class time for students to engage with one another and improve their own writing projects, as well as become skilled in review and revision.
What do student writers get from peer response workshops?
The opportunity to improve drafts before submitting for a grade. Addressing writing assignments in class encourages students to view their papers as a learning process, rather than a last minute final draft. The questions and comments peers offer each other in the workshop can enable them to deepen their approach and understanding of the topic and assignment.
An expanded idea of audience. Giving and receiving feedback in small groups allows student writers to enhance and widen their concept of readership. Without a workshop, they may believe their only reader is the course instructor. Hearing comments from a variety of readers may help them to revisit their original ideas of content and purpose to make revision decisions. This is more engaging and effective than just "making corrections" suggested by an instructor.
Practice in critical thinking and reading for revision. By recognizing issues in their peers' writing, students can become more aware of problems in their own work, strengthening their ability to read critically.
Enhanced communication and collaboration skills. Discussing their writing projects with their peers can help students articulate themselves in the classroom and enhance their confidence in the discourse of the discipline.
A better understanding of the assignment and their progress. The workshop allows student writers to see how others are handling the assignment and decide for themselves if they are meeting the expectations.
Tips for running a successful workshop:
It's a good idea to have students take turns reading their papers aloud to each other as opposed to silently reading. Students will often catch many of their own errors, gain new perspectives, and generate fresh ideas by reading aloud. It helps them to see their words in a different way, similar to turning a painting or drawing upside down in a design critique. The act of vocalizing their words also helps students get over any initial shyness. You'll need to require students bring a hard copy of their draft to class on the day of the workshop, either one copy if they are working in pairs, or enough copies for each member of their group.
Provide a rubric and/or questions to consider
Students who have not participated in a workshop may be uncertain how to provide feedback and appropriate comments. It's easy to forget that students might not have a discourse for discussing "good" writing, and will revert to "I like it," or "I don't like it," or stick to editing grammar and spelling. Providing a rubric or questions can ensure students stay focused on the bigger picture, and are addressing the larger issues in their papers, such as ideas, organization, argument, and support.
Set aside enough time
Workshops are not as effective when students don't have sufficient time to read their papers and discuss them fully; they'll be aware that the instructor does not take the workshop seriously if it is rushed, and will be less likely to focus and stay engaged.
If you'd like more information about conducting in class workshops, or would like a Writing & Speaking Studio representative to assist you in facilitating a peer workshop, please contact us at (212) 217-3060.