Bit of a rant coming. Apologies in advance.
I love the writing process, I love to read what others have written, I love to help people love their own writing, and I love a good peer review that helps me. One of the many benefits of the Rhetoric & Writing major is that we learn how to give a decent peer review. I keep reading articles that say Aristotle was the originator of collaborative learning, so it's ingrained into the rhetorical tradition.
We have a one-page written response due to each reading in the Problem Solving class (the one for which Skinny Jeans is the TA). The assignment sheet for for the responses was vague at best; to my way of thinking, this is a recipe for disaster. Trust me, I am looking forward to writing the course evaluation for this class (insert maniacal laughter here).
On Thursday, with the idea that she was going to help us figure out what a good response paper looks like, Skinny Jeans passed out some bad examples from previous classes. After we read each one, she asked, "So what's bad about this?"
I wanted to throw paper wads at her.
First of all, that is NOT how you get a helpful peer review, as all my writing buddies know. It's not a good idea to start off on a hunt for the bad and the ugly. And while these were not peer reviews in the usual sense (thank goodness!), peer reviewing is a skill that these freshmen need to learn, and for her to start with "What's bad?" doesn't encourage them to be thinking about someone else's writing-- or their own-- in a constructive way.
Even more depressing is the enthusiasm with which some of my classmates jumped into the fray. Such scathing reviews, such casual dismissal of these students' writing ability, such outright nastiness and snobbery. I didn't think that my classmates were perfect people, of course, but I saw a side of them last week that I didn't want to see. I left depressed, angry, and deflated.
And now I'm trying to work on my project for that class and all I can think of is the tone of superiority and looks of scorn on these young faces. I wish I had not been too shocked to ask, "Aren't you all being a bit harsh? Try looking for some good in this paper instead of just the bad." But I didn't say it. I just sat there in face-palm mode, waiting for SJ to stop the madness. She didn't.
I keep encouraging my classmates to use the university Writing Center, to the point that they might think I'm getting some sort of kickback. (Nope, I'm just a firm believer in the program.) I know for sure that's a place of encouragement, of finding the good in a paper, and a place where students get help, not scorn, for the rough spots. When my turn comes to be a TA, I don't want to encourage ugliness in my classroom. I hope I can foster an environment of encouragement and support, and let it be known that criticism for its own sake (i.e., "This is pointless!") is not tolerated. I don't know yet how I'll do it, but I know a better starting point is to ask, "What's good about this?"
What do you think? Am I crazy? Rose-tinted? Or on the right track?