Toolbox

Whiteboard Quick-Check

Quick (10-15 min tops), only needs a whiteboard and markers, big impact potential. Anonymous part not critical, but I think it did give us better results. If you’re cool with the vulnerability of winging it, I highly recommend as a check-in/calibration tool.

Picture of a whiteboard in a college classroom. A chart is drawn in black marker  down the full length of the board. The boxes read "full draft of TP," "Partial Draft," "Haven't started," "Haven't Picked a Book," "Having trouble finding 'critical work;'" "What is a critical work," "finished working on SA," "Not sure which is which,"and "other." There are varying numbers of check marks in boxes representing students.

Piggybacking off the data stations from the first day of my Advanced Exposition class this semester, I used this quick and impromptu whiteboard check-in to plan (at the beginning of class) my American Lit writing workshop today. From several emails and several conferences with students, I got the impression that we were all in very different places with understanding the assignment, getting started, understanding what a “critical work” was, etc. So, instead of the class on the schedule, we took a day to workshop in groups that were in similar stages of the process. Knowing I needed their honest assessment of where they were and what they did and didn’t understand (something they’d definitely not been vocalizing in class so far), I drew the above chart before class, told them to put a check in any box that applied to them, to write any questions I hadn’t anticipated under other, and to be honest (because I didn’t even care if they hadn’t started, just that we get some quality work done today). Then I went to fill up my water bottle and waited outside when I got back until a student poked their head out and said they were done.

This took a couple of minutes to draw and about five minutes for them to complete. While I sketched out a plan (based on the check numbers) for where the different groups (full, haven’t started, and partial) would work in the room and what they’d do, I had students write a plan of action for the day in their Composition Books (including at least one question they would ask me when I made it to them for one-on-one check-ins). The sketching/CB time took about five minutes as well. Then I designated different corners of the room for the different groups, waited for them to move, and then gave each group their instructions. Full Drafts would exchange drafts and do peer review, Partials would talk in smaller groups first about concerns/questions/plans of action and then continue to draft, Haven’t Starteds would jump right into drafting and get a visit from me first–after I conferenced with the one student who still hadn’t picked a book to propose (which was the point of the essay–a Text Proposal.)

While those who wanted to started those tasks, those students who wanted help with finding critical works (and research in general) listened to a mini-workshop on using databases, specifically to narrow searches for academic work. Then we all continued working on our group-defined tasks as I made my way around the room checking in with each student.

Though it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to walk into the class with a lot up in the air and to plan on the fly while the class waits/works, this was an absolutely necessary pause for calibration. Students had a productive day among others who were struggling with similar problems and got extra one-on-one attention for a project that’s due in a few days.