Three Methods to Enhance Peer Review in Your Classroom

We’ve all done it: asked students to switch papers before turning them in for editing and peer review, only to receive superficial comments and vague critiques that make us wonder if peer review is really worth the time. Some of us have students put sentences on the board for whole class peer review. The sentences go up, but when I ask for edits that might make them better, I hear nothing but the crickets chirping.

Learning to Paraphrase and Read Deeply

It isn’t always easy to put the ideas of others into your own words, especially if you don’t completely understand what you’re trying to paraphrase. But even though it’s a struggle, it’s often worth the effort. The process of doing so almost invariably deepens the understanding.

Learning from Stories

The pedagogical literature deals with so many aspects of teaching; some topics are covered regularly, others not so often, and some only rarely. This may be the only article I have encountered with the goal of offering “a general, interdisciplinary ‘how-to’ . . . for using stories in the college classroom” (McNett, 2016, p. 186).

Facilitating Discussion

It’s another of those phrases frequently used and almost universally endorsed but not much talked about in terms of implementation. What does facilitating discussion mean? How should a teacher do it? Two faculty researchers, Finn and Schrodt (2016), frame the problem this way: “The literature is replete with descriptive accounts and anecdotal evidence but lacks the kinds of empirical investigations that could create theoretical coherency in this body of work” (p. 446). They decided our understanding of discussion facilitation could be deepened with an operational definition, one that resides in an instrument to measure it quantitatively.

Understanding Figures, Tables, Graphs, and Charts

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, it should be given that much of your time,” says Edward Tufte. Biology professor Amy Wiles says it was what got her started thinking about the importance of visual representations in her field: “Students needs to be visually literate just as they need to be verbally literate, but skills required to develop visual literacy are often overlooked in undergraduate education” (p. 336). Instructors, used to seeing how data are organized in tables and graphs and comfortable with diagrams that visually represent relationships, don’t stop to think how unfamiliar those may look to students. We should ask ourselves, how much instructional time is devoted to helping students make sense of these ways of communicating content?

Mind Wandering

Many students don’t pay much attention in class. They come to class, but most of the time, only their bodies are present. When they study, that demanding task occurs as they attend to a host of other, often more engaging mental activities. It is a problem, but maybe our expectations are unrealistic. As Pachai, Acai, LoGiudice, and Kim (2016) say, “It is unreasonable to expect students to continuously pay attention while listening to a lecture, reading a textbook, or studying for an exam. The mind naturally wanders, shifting attention from the primary task at hand to internal, personally relevant thoughts” (p. 134). In fact, researchers estimate that Pachai and colleagues say that our minds wander 30–50 percent of the time during our daily lives. It happens to teachers, students, and everybody else.

Exploring What the Syllabus Communicates

The syllabus is often described as a road map to the course. But along with laying out the direction and details of the course, it also conveys messages about what the course will be like. These messages are not communicated explicitly but are more a function of the language and tone of the syllabus. A group of psychology faculty agreed, but they also wondered if the theoretical framework of the syllabus might influence students’ perceptions of the course and its instructor.

Knowledge Decay

It’s jargon, and in this case “knowledge decay” refers to how fast students forget what they have learned for a test. There’s a general sense among faculty that they forget a lot, quickly. Research would respond to our general impressions with answers that clearly support “it depends” conclusions. A study done in a chemistry class illustrates this. The research team started with the big general question. Does knowledge decay occur in chemistry courses? And if it does, when? The study answered these questions with data collected in three different courses: an undergraduate chemistry course for nursing students, another for nonscience undergraduates, and another for high school honors students.