... were a really good idea tonight.
My class tonight wrote some pretty good drafts. I suspect it's because they're writing on a topic they had to research for presentations, so they've been thinking about the topic for a while and have sources to use.
I went out of my way to make a good number of comments because the final paper is worth 25% of their grade. I also had them do a total of four rounds of paper exchanges.
The first round was an experiment -- I paired up students according to their grades on the draft... high/high and all the way down. They may or may not have had similar topics. Their task was to read the paper and tell the other person what it was about. The idea was that hearing another person's reporting the paper would help them to see what the ACTUAL focus of the paper is, not what the author thinks the paper is about.
The next three rounds were paired by a variety of means -- similar topic and position on the topic, complimentary topics and then just people who would give one another good feedback.
Each pair had 45 minutes to read, make comments and discuss. Next time I think I'll reduce the time a bit -- maybe 30 minutes per rotation.
At the end, more than a few students looked at me with some admiration... they actually appreciated the time and effort it takes to read and comment on a paper. When they realized that within 10 days I read about 70 drafts -- they came to appreciate the kind of effort and concentration that takes.
It really was nice to have them recognize the effort -- especially on a night when I'm pretty fried from reading so danged many drafts :).
I think next semester I'm going to do peer paper exchanges earlier in the semester.. I'm not sure how that will work, but I think that reading another student's work is very helpful enough to make time to put it in earlier rather than later.
I'm also toying with the idea of doing a very early, short, argument paper -- with a minimal research requirement. The paper would be pass/fail and I could use it to get students writing help earlier in the semester -- before it's too late.