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Channeling the Doubter and Believer

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Course: PWR 1

Activity length and schedule: This asynchronous activity is flexible enough to be used for the RA or RBA assignments. It takes place between one synchronous and the next synchronous section meeting. Whenever students have a first draft of any of the major assignments, they can start this activity by posting their paragraphs to Canvas and comment on their peers’ paragraphs.  Holly says: "I do this after any draft workshop, so usually end of week 2 or beginning of week 3 (assuming a short RA arc). I think it’s best suited to the RA and RBA as-is, because it’s asking students to think about believing and doubting in the context of ‘drilling down’/following up on claims. I just used it for PWR1A in the Analysis of Reading (close-reading) assignment, and that worked well, too..."

Activity goals: 1. This activity helps students focus on and improve the particularly challenging aspects of their writing (students post the paragraphs that need attention online); 2. This activity also promotes collaboration and peer review, as students are required to comment on each other’s writing in an online forum. 3. Finally, this activity cultivates students’ critical habit of thinking about writing from a rhetorical perspective: students are required to single out the challenging aspects of their peers’ writing both as a “doubter” and as a “believer” to analyze the strength and weakness of their peers’ writing.

Activity details:

This exercise—inspired by Peter Elbow’s Believing and Doubting Game—is part of a larger set of activities designed to help students think about “drilling down” and analytical follow-through. By engaging in these tasks, students are cultivating the ability to not only respond to The Doubter and The Believer, but also to build these characters in our minds. Put another way, we’re using peer feedback this time in order to build a duo of characters students can eventually channel when they are revising ‘solo.’

Instructors use this activity when students have a working draft completed, after the peer review workshop. After getting global feedback, this gives everyone the opportunity to do focused work on a specific section (do a “deep dive” into a challenging paragraph or two). This would work for a close-reading assignment (RA or otherwise) or a conversation analysis (TiC or the like). This exercise takes place between two synchronous section meetings. The instructor can replicate this timing throughout the course, so students can anticipate task timing: post after Zoom meeting on one day, respond the next day, then engage with peers’ responses before class on Thurs...rinse, repeat...

Here are the instructions for students:

  • Preparation: Before class, read Peter Elbow's 2008 talk, "The Believing Game -- Methodological Believing"
  • Synchronous component: During class, talk about the reading:  What were memorable moments? Something you want to challenge? Questions? (~10 minutes of synchronous conversation)
  • Asynchronous component (these instructions for students can be pinned to the top of a Slack channel or Discussion board post).  This part of the activity should take students about 35 minutes to complete.
    • Before the end of the day on a given class day: copy + paste from your current draft (RA or TiC) (5 minutes).  Post a paragraph from your draft that a Doubter might “pick on.” Note: as nerve-wracking as this can be, remember that this will strengthen your shakiest paragraph...
    • Select two peers’ posted paragraphs, and read them carefully. Dwell with their ideas for a moment before you move to the next step.  Try to choose posts with the fewest responses.  Now. respond to these two posts. For each one:
      • First, channel the Doubter: note where you might need more evidence and/or explanation. Think: are there enough examples? Are the examples the best for the job? Are claims well-explained? Does the writer guide you carefully through their reasoning? Any phrases that might draw the attention of a skeptic? Did you “get lost” at any point?  You may want to frame these as questions ("I was wondering how..." or "Can you offer a little more ...?). Be very specific, quote when needed, and as always, ‘round up’ on courtesy when offering critique.
      • Then, follow up with thoughts from the Believer: include 1-2 compliments (what would ‘the believer’ really latch onto/notice? What can you rave about as the Believer?). Be specific, and quote as needed...
  • Before the next class period: Respond (5-10 minutes): Return to your own post, and note how you can take up the feedback your peers have offered...acknowledge compliments, give thanks to reviewers for their insights, and note your next steps. That is, identify what you will do to strengthen this paragraph in response to the feedback you’re received (add a sentence in a spot? Add another example? Trim or rephrase?). Your plan doesn’t have to be perfect—just ‘take a shot’ at it.