The Writing and Peer-Review Process
The process used to teach grant writing within this course has evolved over time, and each instructor implements the process in a slightly different way. One of us spreads the grant-writing project throughout the semester interspersing the steps into the other course material. This approach reinforces grant writing as a process and ensures adequate time to teach, write, review, and revise each step. The other instructor covers the grant-writing project in a six-week block of the semester. This more intensive approach allows students to focus solely on the project and to avoid diluting it with other course material. Either approach results in students spending considerable amounts of time on the meaningful tasks involved in grant writing.
Two sections of this course with 25-35 students each are taught every semester with an instructor typically teaching one section and working with a specific community partner. It is not helpful for our community partner to receive 25-35 grant proposals; yet, the course carries writing intensive credit. This makes it important to have each student write and demonstrate competence with all components of a grant proposal. Consequently, we use a combination of individual and group writing. Through the community partner‘s discussion of their program and specific funding needs, we generate a list of topics or funding areas. Groups are formed around these topics with four to five students per group.
The grant proposal is grouped into components: organization background, needs statement, goals and objectives, methods, evaluation, sustainability, and budget. Each component is covered in the text used for the class (Carlson & O’Neal-McElarth, 2008). After the students read the chapter, the component is discussed in class and then the group works together to discuss and gather necessary information. Students receive frequent performance feedback on their work from the instructor and from peers. Each student writes these grant components individually and after completing one or two components, students bring a copy for review by another student from a different group. Peer review allows students to benefit from additional feedback on their work and to learn from reviewing and critiquing others’ work. Some instructors have found it beneficial to organize the class as a review committee, with each student serving as primary and secondary reviewer of another student’s proposals (Wooley, 2004). However, we organize it so our students have three opportunities to give and receive feedback, receiving credit for both their writing and their ability to provide feedback which increases the quality of the peer-review process. Students often comment that by learning what to look for when reviewing another student’s proposal, they better understand the strengths and weaknesses of their own proposal.
Ultimately, students use the feedback they received from their peers and instructor to work with their group to integrate and synthesize all the best ideas and feedback into one proposal. The synthesized, completed grant proposal is peer reviewed one more time. By the end of the semester, each student has written and provided feedback on the individual steps and the full grant proposal. Furthermore, each group has one grant proposal that is written specifically for their funding topic and they have received feedback from peers and instructor numerous times. Students must write each component of the grant proposal individually in order to received credit for the group proposal. With this process, the community partner receives 6-8 proposals as opposed to 25-35! Additionally, each student is learning about each component and they benefit from the synergy that develops within the groups. For example, each group member may approach their needs statement differently and by combining the best of each, they end up with a stronger needs statement. The whole really is greater than the sum of the parts!!