Establishing “Experts Teams” in Composition Courses:

Save Your Time and Brain Cells by Giving Responsibility to the Students

 

Step 1:  Identifying patterns of error in the first month of the (16-week) semester

 

I developed groups following the first few writing assignments, after keeping track of the types of errors individual students made on their essays and short writings. Each student is assigned to a group based on the patterns of error I have recorded. For instance, if a student's writing shows little knowledge of sentence boundaries, she will be in the group that researches sentence fragments and run-ons.

 

Step 2:  Establishing the teams

 

In the 5th week of the semester, I posted these assignments on the class web page:

Tuesday, 9/27

In-class assignment: Based on the editing problems I saw in the defining moments papers, I will place you into "experts teams," wherein you will research a specific punctuation or grammar convention, making yourselves, hereafter, the class experts and consultants on that aspect of editing throughout the rest of the semester. Today you will begin your research from on-line, print, and human resources, and you will plan how your group will present your topic in class and supplement it with a permanent resource. You may supplement your oral presentation by developing a PowerPoint slide show (which can then be posted on the Internet for future reference), a web page or web site, or simply as an MS Word hard copy handout, which also can be posted on the Internet. The experts teams will consist of three or four members and will focus on comma uses and misuses, sentence boundary errors (fragments and run-ons), identification and use of past tense verbs, use of quotation marks (particularly as relates to other punctuation), identifying and avoiding shifting verb tenses, and effective proofreading strategies and techniques.

Thursday, 9/29

In-class assignment: Develop your experts team supplement and plan your classroom presentation of the topic. You may elect a spokesperson, or you may take turns with each group member making part of your presentation. You will be called on to make your presentation as your topic comes up during the next three weeks of class; we won't present them all at one time. Throughout the rest of the semester, as we are doing peer review and editing workshops, your team will be the consultants on your assigned punctuation or grammar convention whenever there are questions or problems related to that editing topic.

Homework assignment for Tuesday, 10/4. Outside of class, each member of your experts team will compose a works cited entry for each resource you used to develop your presentation. Follow the guidelines and samples in section 11 of the Writing Essentials handbook and in the online Guide to Grammar and Writing. On Tuesday, you will discuss these with the other members of your team and will add them to your team's presentation supplement when you have come to agreement as to the format and information in each works cited entry.

Step 3:  Making class time for the presentations

During a three-week span, the experts teams made their in-class presentations, which were worked in around the on-going, normal sequence of reading and writing assignments and discussions.  The results were not completely professional and without error, but I critiqued their presentations, as did their classmates, in a supportive way, and had them revise and improve the projects until all were worthy of an "A." 

Step 4:  Using their expertise

By mid-semester the experts had made their presentations and had become knowledgeable of a major editing error that had been problematic for them up to that point.  Thereafter, during the frequent workshop days, which is what constitutes most of the in-class time after the first half of the semester, when students would want to ask me questions about punctuation or grammar while they were composing or revising work, I would redirect them to “the comma consultants” or the “fragment experts” or the “verb tense pros” in their class.  I found myself spending very little time explaining editing corrections during workshop days and was able, instead, to focus more on content issues, help with research problems, and explain documentation conventions in my one-on-one, in-class “mini-conferences.”

Results

Establishing the experts teams as consultants gave me more time to interact with students on higher-order writing concerns in class rather than focusing on surface errors, but did the students, as a whole, make fewer editing errors and did their writing greatly improve because of their collaboration?  Honestly, I cannot say because I had no control group or no basis to compare the learning results to.  I don’t know if they learned more or better because they became the experts as I have no way of measuring what they might not have learned had I done things differently.  The overall class GPA would tell very little since class GPAs tend to fluctuate widely for a variety of reasons.   Nonetheless, it made the students into experts for a couple months, and it freed me from some of the drudge work.  It taught them persistence, since I would not pronounce the presentation projects completed until they were worthy of an “A” grade, and it sure seems like the right thing to do.  You may want to make an opportunity to take a look at the results of the experts teams projects to judge for yourself.  Below are some of the URLs from my Summer and Fall 2005 English 111 students’ experts projects.

 Experts Teams URLs:

http://community.tncc.edu/faculty/dollieslager/commapolice.ppt

http://community.tncc.edu/faculty/dollieslager/fragments.ppt

http://community.tncc.edu/faculty/dollieslager/sentenceboundaries1.ppt

http://community.tncc.edu/faculty/dollieslager/semicolons.ppt

http://community.tncc.edu/faculty/dollieslager/commapresentation.ppt

http://community.tncc.edu/faculty/dollieslager/pasttenses.ppt

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Rick Dollieslager, English Dept. Chairman
http://www.tncc.edu/faculty/dollieslager

Thomas Nelson Community College
P.O. Box 9407, Hampton, Virginia 23670
Phone:  757/825-3543   Fax: 757/825-3842
Chairman, VCCS Tidewater Regional Center for Teaching Excellence http://community.tncc.edu/faculty/dollieslager/rcte/cteshomepage.html


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