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Remediating and Reviewing Peer Arguments

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Brief Assignment Overview: 

Designed to facilitate a deeper level of peer review and collaborative learning, this assignment asks students to deliver oral presentations of each others' work and offer constructive commentary on their peer's paper.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

This assignment is intended to facilitate a deeper level of peer review and collaborative learning as well as facilitate classroom discussion regarding the writing process.

Required Materials: 

No classroom technology is required for this assignment, although a media consolae/projector facilitates students who want to use technology in their presentations.

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

In this assignment, you will deliver an 8-12 minute oral presentation to the class (1) restating your peer’s paper, (2) identifying the conversation in which your peer’s paper is situated, and (2) offering constructive feedback or questions regarding your peer’s paper that might be helpful for the class to discuss to assist the author. Your peer will in turn deliver a presentation regarding your paper. After each presentation, a brief Q&A period will be permitted for the class to discuss the paper and ask the author questions if desired. The author may respond to questions during this period, but otherwise the author should not intervene to explain their work during the presentation but should instead simply listen to the restatement and commentary offered by the presenter and the class.

You should approach your presentation as a writer sharing a peer’s work with fellow writers and not be overly formal. Your presentation must follow a formal outline, contain the content called for by the protocol below and in the order set forth in the protocol, and be delivered within the stated time limits. When the time limit is up, the presentation will be stopped. You should practice the presentation before you deliver it live to ensure that you can deliver it within the stated time limits. Please note that a paper outline is required and must be handed to me before to your presentation on the day it is scheduled. You’re allowed but not required to use audio-visual materials during your oral presentation as long as they’re not used to substitute for your own extemporaneous commentary during the presentation. You can present sitting down or standing from any location in the classroom that you wish.

*Authors are obligated to deliver a copy of their paper to their presenter no less than 72 hours before the scheduled presentation so that the presenter has adequate time to prepare.

Protocol

Your presentation should closely approximate the following format:

(1) Describe the paper and identify its central argument(s)/contribution(s) (4-6 minutes). What appears to be the central issue/puzzle that the paper seeks to address? How would you state the paper’s central argument or thesis? How does the author develop the paper? (Provide a very brief summary of the paper and its arrangement.) In what debates/discussions does the paper situate itself? What does the author contribute to the conversation the paper engages.

(2) Identify the evidence/methods the author uses to support the claims made (2 minutes).

(3) Offer constructive feedback (2-6 minutes). Identify one or two broad areas in which the paper might be improved. What might be helpful for the group to discuss to assist the author?

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

No instructor preparation is required.

Instructions For Students: 

Students are provided the full assignment description set forth above.

Evaluation Suggestions: 

The assignment is graded based primarily on the basis of completion, contingent only on the students meeting the minimum requirements that the presentation follow a formal outline, contain the content called for by the protocol and in the order set forth in the protocol, and be delivered within the stated time limits.

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

Students have reported some anxiety both as author and as presenter of a peer's paper, particularly regarding losing control of the presentation and not being in a position to defend their work as author or mis-characterizing their peer's work as presenter. My experience is that students take the presentations more seriously when presenting a peer's work than when presenting their own, however, and in some ways experience less anxiety because they don't have to defend their work. They also appear to value the experience of hearing a peer restate their paper's content. Requiring them to read a peer's paper in sufficient depth to deliver a presentation regarding it has also proved educational about the writing process.

Course Description: 

In his book On the Contrary, rhetoric scholar Thomas Sloane writes, ”Rhetorical thought is—let us admit it—highly perverse and lawyerly in nature.” In this statement, Sloane not only alludes to the closely intertwined history of rhetoric and law from the earliest days of Western thought to the modern era, but highlights the shared promotion by both of these fields of an agonistic “art of controversy” which seeks to facilitate controversy through the practice of arguing both sides of a case, a practice classical rhetoricians called in utramque partem (“on either side”). The principal theorists of classical Greek and Roman rhetoric promoted agonistic contests in which speakers argued opposite sides of disputed issues, often with specifically judicial contexts in mind, and the American legal system’s adversarial system of justice is founded on a contest of accusation and defense between parties in which each seeks to persuade a judge or jury of disputed issues on opposite sides of a case. 

Despite the close relationship between rhetoric and law, however, and the fact that the lawyer remains, in the words of legal scholar James Boyd White, “the modern rhetorician in its purest form,” the modern professionalization of law has frequently attempted to deny or repress the rhetorical aspects of legal discourse and the agonistic conflict on which the adversarial system of justice is founded. Instead, modern law has promoted a view of legal discourse as a value-neutral “science” based on logical deduction and immune to social and political influence. This paradoxical relationship between law and rhetoric in modern legal discourse has produced a recent revival of questions about modern law’s denial of rhetoric, including important questions about the role of character and emotion in legal argument, the role of narrative in the analysis of legal evidence, the effect of the adversarial system of justice on social cohesion and division, and the relationship of legal rhetoric to democracy, coercion, and violence.

We’ll study these questions by first examining the forms of argument used in the legal profession today, focusing on arguments regarding the interpretation of circumstantial evidence in legal cases and the analogical, or case-based, form of legal argument known as “legal reasoning” which is used to argue for or against the application of judicial precedent to new cases. Specifically, we’ll study arguments regarding the evidence in controversial trials such as the 1976 Patty Hearst trial, the 1982 Lindy Chamberlain (“Dingo”) trial, the 1992 Randy Weaver (“Ruby Ridge”) trial, and the 1994 trials of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin (the “West Memphis Three”), as well as arguments and judicial opinions in U.S. Supreme Court cases regarding the Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure clause and the minimum standards of effective legal advocacy found in the Sixth Amendment’s right to assistance of counsel. After examining the forms and purposes of legal rhetoric as it is actually employed in the legal profession, we’ll then consider contemporary critiques of the adversary system and the agonistic rhetoric on which it depends, including critiques implicit in public perceptions of the legal system and cultural representations of lawyers.

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