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Each year, the Association of Atlantic Universities sponsors a Teaching Showcase, a conference on a specific theme dealing with teaching and learning. This year’s conference theme at Mount Allison University in Sackville New Brunswick was “Assessment: Teaching, Learning, Quality.”  As always, the conference provided plenty of opportunities to reflect on what I do in the classroom and to come away with new ideas. I also gave a paper on a project that I regularly assign in my introductory English course and that I think works very well in making students assess their skills and learn from each other. Following is the published abstract of my presentation; the full program and abstracts of other presentations can be found on the AAU Teaching Showcase 2013 site.  Proceedings from previous years are available online.

Anna Smol.  Abstract: “Voicing Interpretations: Peer Learning and Self-Assessment in a First-Year Literature Assignment”  AAU Teaching Showcase 2013. Mount Allison University. October 26, 2013.

Most literature instructors want their students to read closely, to write clearly, and to learn how to revise, as well as to participate in class discussions or to give oral presentations. I will present a two-part assignment developed for first-year English students that works towards all of these goals. The first part consists of a conventional written analysis of a short story. In the second part, students select and rehearse a portion of their chosen story to read aloud to a small group before writing a reflection on / review of their own and another person’s performance. The voicing of a passage requires that students pay attention to the author’s words rather than silently skim the text. In preparing for their readings and listening to their peers, students learn about different and often subtle new interpretations of a closely analyzed portion of a story. The final reflection / review allows students to revise their previously written analyses in the light of these new ideas, to become more aware of techniques of oral presentation, and to assess honestly how well they and others handled their own readings. I will present the guidelines that I give to students at all stages of this assignment and illustrate with examples from student writing the kind of peer learning and self-assessment that can take place. This assignment is most relevant for literature and language students but may be applicable in other disciplines that require oral presentations and the comprehension and interpretation of literary texts.