Radically-collaborative delayed-cycle English classes

By dkl9, written 2023-247, revised 2023-247 (0 revisions)

In the US, these days (since quite some while ago), every student in mainstream schools must take a particular form of "English" class. (This may apply somewhat to other countries, but I know not how much.) Such "English" classes, at least at higher levels, appear to serve the following main purposes:

  1. expose students to culture/concepts, mostly thru reading and reflection thereupon
  2. guide students to practise reading/research
  3. advance students' writing skills
  4. teach students, explicitly, the mechanics and techniques of existing writing

Some say that most of mainstream school is indoctrination/useless/deliberately tedious/etc. The case is particularly salient for most of "English" classes being obsolete due to now-prevalent LLMs. They may be right, but that's beyond the scope here, and I will continue here assuming they're wrong — that mainstream school has its flaws, but its general premises are reasonable.

In response to those flaws, here's my attempt at a serious redesign of English classes.

Purpose 4, as listed above (teach the mechanics of existing writing), doesn't look that useful, except insofar as it may help with purpose 3 (advance writing skills). G.K. Chesterton would like to remind me about the fence, but I'm ignoring him, so I'll discard purpose 4 and replace it. So these are the purposes to be fulfilled by the new classes:

  1. expose students to culture/concepts, mostly thru reading and reflection thereupon
  2. guide students to practise reading/research
  3. advance students' writing skills
  4. improve students' ability to edit writing for the better

A radically-collaborative delayed-cycle (RCDC) English course cycles thru four main activities:

  1. be introduced to a topic or issue
  2. research the topic (perhaps as homework and/or with assigned reading)
  3. write a document about the topic
  4. edit others' documents and handle edits you get

Notice the parallels between the list of goals and the list of methods.

The main advantage of RCDC English classes are their potential to get thru topics and essays much faster than current standard practice.

§ Radically collaborative

I call this design "radically collaborative" sith steps 3 and 4 operate as to make any student's document effectively that of two students.

Consider a class with students Alice, Bob, Carol, Dan, etc, up to Zack. Each student writes and submits a document. It's not essential for this process that they all respond to the same prompt, but in practice, they probably would.

Each student is then assigned an editor: perhaps Alice's editor is Fred, Bob's is Harry, etc. These do not form symmetric pairs: Alice doesn't necessarily edit Fred's document, nor Bob Harry's; Fred and Harry randomly get other editors, all such that the mapping from writers to editors is a bijection/permutation.

Fred gets Alice's essay — but isn't told it's Alice's, just the prompt to which it responds — and records a list of edits he thinks would make it better. Alice receives Fred's edits — but isn't told they're from Fred — and applies them as she sees fit to her essay, submitting the edited version. (Alternatively, Fred just directly edits the essay, with no review from Alice. Pick whichever method makes it harder to game the system — I can't tell which.)

Alice's pre-revision and post-revision essays are both graded, by the same standards. Alice gets a grade for writing based on both of those grades (perhaps their arithmetic mean), to reward her for skill at quick, initial writing, and for writing in a way that's easy to edit as necessary. Fred gets a grade for editing based the grades for Alice's essays (perhaps their difference, divided by the pre-revision essay's distance from perfection), to reward him for editing well. (Alice and Fred also get their own grades for editing and writing with other partners, respectively.)

For example, Alice's draft is graded as 76%, and her revised document as 94%. Then Alice's writing grade might be (76 + 94) / 2 = 85%, and Fred's editing grade might be (94 - 76) / (100 - 76) = 75%.

Radical collaboration is good sith it lets us mix editing practice into writing practice, and make better use of the hastily-written documents which arise in the requisite tight cycle.

§ Delayed-cycle

I call this design "delayed-cycle" sith steps 2 to 4 should operate with a delay relative to step 1.

For example, the cycle might play out like this:

  1. introduce topic A
  2. filler material, perhaps expanding topic A to multiple options
  3. introduce topic B
  4. research, write, edit for topic A
  5. introduce topic C
  6. research, write, edit for topic B
  7. introduce topic D
  8. research, write, edit for topic C
  9. (and so on)

Delaying the cycle like this is good sith it extends the interval over which students reflect on a topic outside class before writing, which makes it easier to do the writing itself quickly.