Today I had one of those ‘why haven’t I done this before?’ type moments that occurred to me when I was planning a 2 hour lesson with my media studies class. I use Microsoft Word all the time to produce documents and so do my students. I have reflected on how to use plenty of other pieces of software as a teaching tool before, but never the humble word. This, I now think, was a mistake!
I knew that students had to show me their skills at writing in the tabloid style for the upcoming exams and I knew that I wanted them to peer assess each others’ work. As their writing was a ‘work on progress’ I wanted them to be able to edit it easily, so I decided they could use the computers to write their articles. I then thought I would just let them print off an early draft of the work. Could I avoid the hassle of 23 students printing off work at once then going crazy with post-it notes? Then I remembered the ‘review’ feature on word – what if I could get students to do the process of peer assessment in ‘real-time’? What I envisaged with this is that another student could quickly offer written feedback to the student on their word document and then the student could return to their own computer and edit their work quickly.
Q: So how did I achieve this?
A: In word click ‘review’ (top menu), highlight a piece of text and click ‘add comment’. Done!
Key notes from observing students carrying out this task:
- Easy to be specific. Sometimes when you get students to peer assess their work on paper they don’t like drawing on the other person’s work or underlining key things. With reviewing on word all the comments are made on a wider right margin and so don’t actually impinge on the actual content. Students generally seem to enjoy working on computers and this is another way of exploiting that engagement for learning.
- Keep it moving. The slight kinaesthetic element of this activity meant that students didn’t have enough time to become bored sitting at a computer – after five minutes they were shuffling onto the next one! I wonder if in the future I could make this moving a bit more fun…
- Success criteria to frame comments. Before students started, they had a display on the board that modelled the kind of language they should use to make comments (e.g. they should imagine someone else is reading it and that they can understand the explanation) and the kind of language techniques that you would expect to find in a tabloid style article. This meant that students had an expectation, right from the beginning, of the quality of the peer assessment they were supposed to produce.
- The text box problem. Students who had done fancy layouts to mimic the look of newspapers were left a little despirited, because you can’t add comments to text inside text boxes. If the focus is on writing, then next time I do this I’ll make a point of saying that layouts are not our focus and should not be used.
- Highlighting too much text. Often students (by mistake I think) highlighted the whole part of the text. I will make it clear to them next time not to do this, or to delete any comments they make doing this by mistake.
I got a little carried away by how well this process was going that I didn’t leave enough time at the end of the lesson for students to go back to their work and use this to strengthen their learning. Many students raced back to their computers and immediately started editing their text based on the suggestions other students had left. This made me realise that the best way to use this will be in short, sharp bursts. What I mean is this: Students spend 10 minutes writing a paragraph, break for 10 minutes to peer assess using word and then return to their work. Repeat when necessary. Having, in a sense, a series of peaks and troughs of peer assessment is going to be valuable for the reasons above but also for the purposes of ensuring all students are engaged and on-task at a similar level – if they know that in ten minutes another student will be seeing their work, I believe they might just sit up and take a little more notice of their writing.