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« Artistic convention | Main | Speaking of being unable to loom... »

August 16, 2009



Oh yes. This is echoed in the study/teaching of history as well!


I just said the same things to a newly hired adjunct.


i am now more terrified of peer review than i was before...i'm a first year grad student teaching freshmen comp and peer review is stressed pretty highly here.


I include peer review in my classes precisely because my students don't know how to do it, and they need to have those skills to be able to use in upper level classes--at my university they are expected to be very practiced in peer review by the time they take an upper-level writing-intensive course.

Anyway, I think you're right that group work--with specific tasks--is better than just "peer review." But I'm starting to figure out ways to use group work to teach students how to do more systematic peer review. So far, what I've come up with is to start by introducing students to the basic principles of peer review in required individual conferences with me about a draft--and I tell them that the point is not just to give them feedback on that paper, but to model for them how to read their peers' writing. Then we move to group tutorials--I cancel regular class in favor of hour-long peer review groups that I lead. They have a worksheet they have to fill out in advance that gives them specific things to respond to, and I ask lots of questions of them about each others papers (sometimes leading, sometimes open). By the end of the semester, I'm usually fairly confident in letting my students do un-supervised peer review.


My objections to peer review do not extend to upper-division or graduate courses, I should note; by that point, the students (usually) come equipped with the necessary skills, and are more often invested in the material.

But only because we teach them those skills in those earlier, mostly-unsuccessful attempts at peer review in composition, no?


Group work that leads to crushing fits of agony: Peer review.

I agree in principle, but in practice, what do you replace it with? I'm about to embark on my third semester of freshman comp and still don't have a good answer to this question. I don't have time to proofread their drafts; I can't send all of them to the writing center or equivalent for at least three drafts per paper; and I want to make sure they at least do have drafts. This brings us back to... peer review.

I think I've come up with some ways to ameliorate the problems you describe (i.e. have them read a few pages from Rules for Writers, then review another person's paper for those particular problems; go through one page of someone's paper as a group), but it's still not perfect, and I still don't see a good alternative.


Except (small voice) I'm not sure that they're learning the actual skill of peer reviewing in freshman comp. At least, not my particular student demographic.


My experience matches yours, and I'm a tall guy (= menacing loomer). Nonetheless, I'm giving peer review another (but limited) try in my introductory Hebrew Bible course.

What I hope makes it work this time is:
* they're reviewing only the first draft of a research paper (I'll assess the final draft at term's end);

* they all get a full rubric as a guide to assessment, and they'll all have that rubric before writing the paper;

* each student will assess (and be assessed by) three (3) of their peers, in the hope that their uneven skills balance out.


I teach (as a grad student) at a university that is entirely invested in peer review in freshman comp. It can certainly produce agony, but if you combine your first kinds of group work with the peer review, I find that the agony tends to be mitigated. I also tend to break peer review into discrete parts and hammer on them during the more lecture-y parts of the class. I have to say, although there are things peer review can't teach the freshman, it does get them used to learning from each other (multiple sources) than just me (Single Authority) which is a pretty useful life skill.

However, I'm also 5' 3" and I've yet to perfect the looming part of the equation.


I have recently decided to give up on the idea of peer review having a big impact on the students' writing (or even their ability to read well). However, I am still including it.

Like others here, I use an extensive rubric/worksheet. Will the students know how to fill out this worksheet? No, but they might learn through practice, and at least they know what I am looking for when *I* read the paper.

In addition, most students (except the most cocky, self-centered ones) enjoy reading each other's papers and talking about the ideas in them. This seems productive as a way of teaching writing as an intellectual conversation.

Making the paper better might not come out of a peer review. But there could be other benefits.

Successful Teacher of Peer Review

Perhaps peer review isn't working for some instructors because of the extensive instructions and rubrics. I also noted emphasis on mechanics and proofreading in some of the comments, aspects that shouldn't be major goals of a "review." Peer reviews should allow a real, live reader to try out what the students have created for a real, live reader. An important goal of peer review is to get students to like review/critique, and instructors would do well to offer how-to lessons that do not follow a rubric or set of detailed instructions; such trappings make students (often) feel like little teachers rather than readers who bring their own expertise to their reading acts. Peter Elbow in Writing With Power (I think) offers a simple approach to peer review that kills the rubrics. Students pick X number (2-5, depending of the page length) of places for readers to stop in their reading process to write comments about what they understand the writer is offering. Reviewers also document any confusion (not about mechanics) and any positive responses, but none of the review is specifically dictated. Elbow's "Movies of the Mind" (I think) comes closer to replicating how people really read than do the many annoying group activities offered under the "peer review" title. And a million ways exist to help students with mechanics--peer review is hardly one of the best since it sets peer review up as a contest of "who knows mechanics" best and often results in poor review commentary. Hope someone peer reviews this comment.

William Patrick Wend

Ah, a very timely post as I am considering this for my first time teaching on the college level. I will definitely do group work once in a while when it fits in my class schedule.

As for peer review, I agree with the commentators above who say that time is an issue. I will be accepting rough drafts before papers are due, but any other review will have to be done by classmates. I have penciled in a day for sideshadowing and will be having students do presentations on their papers where, hopefully, they will receive good feedback as well from myself and our class.


I just had a brainwave!

What about making peer review more like the stuff we agree works:

Make 2 students hook up and re-draft papers you've already commented on.

Perhaps together, with double the neurons, they might be able to figure out how to do it without the agony?

[The agony was always mine, as the instructor who was stupefied at how, for a ubiquitous example, an A student failed to inform her C colleague that she failed to, you know, cite a single a source in her research paper. "But Mary thought it was a great paper! She gets A's all the time!"]

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