Sunday, January 27, 2013

Peer Review

The concept of peer review is one that gets a lot of press in higher education but not so much in K-12 schooling. I was thinking about peer review tonight, as the RI Writing Project's Spring Conference Committee has just completed its process of reviewing proposals and forming the 2013 conference program. Reviewing conference proposals is a great form of peer review: reading other educators' work and ideas for conference sessions, seeing what others are doing in their classrooms, what other schools/districts/states are doing and thinking around Common Core, literacy, and writing instruction.

Our conference proposal review was a deliberate and thoughtful face-to-face meeting at Old Alumni House last Tuesday evening.  There were eight of us around the table--all Executive Board members and volunteers on the Spring Conference Committee--and we came to the meeting having read "blind" copies of the proposals (contact info/identifying info was taken out). We are:

1. English professor, CCRI
2. middle school teacher
3. middle school teacher (retired)
4. high school English teacher
5. high school English teacher
6. English & secondary education professor, RIC
7. elementary school teacher (retired)
8. curriculum coordinator/literacy coach, K-5 school

We had agreed to a loose scoring rubric to guide our reading, and the 4 items on the rubric were also the four criteria listed in the call for proposals: goals & objectives, content, method of presentation/workshop, and research base. The rubric guided our discussion in that we held each proposal to the same criteria, but our discussion also carefully took into account several "lenses" that we had agreed to beforehand, "lenses" through which we might see each proposal vis a vis this conference, this year, in this context.

Prior to the discussion of proposals, we had put on the easel at the front of the room a few key words and phrases to guide us, those "lenses" to remind us to see each proposal on its own and in the context of the conference. Those key words were:

Audience (who?)
Audience engagement
Purpose (what?)
Keynote (critical pedagogy)
Climate (of education in RI)
Writing Project identity

Once we agreed on this list, we got to work, discussing each proposal's merits and areas in need of improvement and assigning a person to write a response letter, using the notes from our group discussion to guide the letter writing. After a couple hours together, we had worked our way through the pile and had handed out follow-up assignments.

Now, less than a week later, we have a good looking conference program with diverse, smart sessions that are bound to engage writing project teachers. As I organized some data tonight and sat back to take a look at the big picture, I felt proud of this peer review process, proud of those teachers from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and England (!) who sent in proposals and put their work out there for others to see. I'm so proud of the RI Writing Project teachers--the Spring Conference Committee-who have been giving their time and expertise to pull this conference together with resourcefulness, intellect, and charm. I'm proud of our organization, our little ocean state writing project, for weathering the storm so far and for continuing to offer teachers shelter in the storm. Thank goodness for the peer review process, for reminding me of all this, for helping me see what we are good at, what is working.