Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Facilitating Effective Peer Review in the Classroom

Created by Taya Norlander, Graduate Teaching Assistant at the CTL & Ellie Dailey, TechFellow at the CTL

Regularly, instructors incorporate peer review activities into their courses as a way to get the students collaborating with each other on various writing assignments.  The ultimate goals of the peer review process are first, to enhance each student’s reading and writing skills and second, to teach students to write for a broader audience rather than writing narrowly to one or two readers.  Both are skills that will benefit students throughout their schooling and into their professional lives no matter what profession they choose. 
Most peer review activities go as follows: the students each write individual, authentic papers, they exchange their first draft with one or two other readers, they read their partner’s paper and leave feedback, they return the paper to the original author, the students review the feedback they have received and edit their own paper, and finally, they turn the paper in for a final grade by the instructor.  It seems as though it’s an easy task; students should know how to do this, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case. 
Instructors have reported that their students do not know how to complete a high quality review of another person's work.  The majority of feedback left is vague and is typically only positive.  Students will say, 'Good job' or 'I really liked your paper' and that is the extent of the feedback but that isn't constructive for the author or the reviewer.  So why don't students know how to proactively review the work of their peers? Here are a couple of possibilities:
  • They don't understand what they are reviewing
  • They feel under-qualified to review some else's work
  • They think the instructor's review is the only review that matters
  • They don't know how to incorporate the feedback into the newly revised paper    
Fortunately, as the instructor, you have the opportunity to address all the aforementioned concerns.  Here are 5 easy tips for facilitating an effective peer review activity in your classroom:
  1. Make the purpose of the activity clear: Students do not come to class on an equal playing field; every student has a different writing style, some students have more experience writing than others, some have done peer review activities since 5th grade, and others might have never written a paper before.  For those exact reasons, you need to start from the bottom up.  Teach the skills needed so that not only do they complete the activity but they are successful and both the author and the reviewer gain as much as possible out of the review process.   
  2. Hold 'mock-reviews': Practice, practice, practice! Set aside time at the beginning of the course to demonstrate what the review process looks like.  Provide shorter sample documents that could be improved, and have the students use your peer review rubric as a guide to their review.  When you come together as a group, discuss the students' feedback and provide constructive criticism.  Then, teach them how to incorporate the feedback into the draft to improve the paper. 
  3. Provide examples of high quality feedback: Once the students have voiced their opinions, provide them with a copy of the same paper that you have read and left comments on.  Giving them examples of your feedback allows them to see what type of feedback you're looking for and further reiterates the purpose of the activity. 
  4. Provide a guide: Write up a short rubric that addresses all of the key parts of the paper you want them to review.  You might have a point that says you want them to review the cohesiveness of the paper; be more specific and describe exactly what that means (Each paragraph has a clear topic sentence, all paragraphs mesh together appropriately, paper is organized in a way that makes it easy to read, etc.).    
  5. Assign a grade for the activity: Assigning a grade for the assignment lets the students know that you are serious about the activity and that the effort they put forth while reviewing their peer's work will benefit them in the end.  However, prior to the review, you will need to decide what and how you will assess their reviews.  Will you grade simply based on completed or not completed? Or will you be more specific and actually review the feedback left? How you decide to do it completely up to you.  
Incorporating peer review activities into your course has great value when it is presented in a constructive way. Peer review can be of benefit to both the students and you as the instructor.  The students will improve their reading and writing skills as well as practice working collaboratively on a team.  And you, as the instructor, will rest easy knowing you've taught your students an important, life-long skill.

The Teaching Center: Washington University-St. Louis. (2013). Using peer review to help students improve writing. Retrieved from http://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/strategies/Pages/peer-review-how-to.aspx#top

International Reading Association. (2013). Strategy ruide: peer review. Retrieved from http://www.readwritethink.org/professional-development/strategy-guides/peer-review-30145.html

Liu, J., Thorndike Psyarchik, D., & Taylor, W.W. (2002). Peer review in the classroom.  Retrieved from http://chans-net.org/sites/chans-net.org/files/peer_review.pdf 

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