Directing Student Revision
By designing a clear peer review worksheet, discussing that worksheet with your class, and modeling peer review, you can provide students with the guidance necessary to provide one another with helpful, substantive feedback.
Defining the Role of the Reviewer
We suggest encouraging students not to judge the paper they’re reviewing, but instead to respond to it as readers. Articulating for the author of the paper what they understand the important elements of the writing to be, students can provide valuable feedback to one another by highlighting moments when the paper isn’t getting its message across.
There are a few ways you can design peer review to encourage student response rather than evaluation:
Ask open-ended questions.
One of the challenges of peer review is ensuring that students identify potential problems in a text beyond the most obvious ones, and open-ended questions can help facilitate that (although you may have to warn students off in advance from responses like “Seems fine to me”).
Ask students to rephrase.
Another common challenge is that students are used to filling in the gaps in a text, so they may mentally supply missing information as they read, rather than identifying moments when the author needs to expand.
Have students articulate the structure of the paper.
Students may assume that any organization that does not confuse them is a good one.
Put problems on the reviewer.
Asking “Where is the paper unclear?” might result in a quick “N/A.”
Remind students that it’s all relative.
As you probably know from your own grading, the most effective models of good writing usually come from student work.
Ask students to spell it out.
If your class is working on an evidence-heavy paper, it can be useful to have reviewers transcribe the main claims the author makes & list the evidence that supports them. Simply presenting the structure of the paper in this way can help them show authors weak spots in the argument.
Mix rankings with comments.
To encourage “big picture” feedback, instead of asking “Is the argument well-supported?” try a more precise term (be sure it’s defined in the review itself) with more options for response. In our adaptable position paper review sheet, for example, we ask students to:
Remind students that reviewing isn’t copyediting.
Although some students will naturally mark typos and grammatical errors in a paper, if students get bogged down in copyediting they can overlook important structural concerns. Furthermore, their classmates won’t learn to recognize their own errors.
Ask them to answer every question.
Sometimes the most helpful feedback is that which isn’t immediately apparent. It may be helpful to remind students that it’s just as important to note what the writer has left out as it is to comment on what is there. By requiring them to answer every question on the peer review form, you stress that every paper, no matter how good, has room for improvement.
Providing the Necessary Skills & Terminology
Although encouraging students to respond rather than judge can immediately improve the quality of feedback you receive from peer reviews, it’s important that students have the necessary skills to read and respond critically to their classmates’ papers. In our webpage Teaching Writing in Your Classroom, we offer several suggestions for ways to teach students the critical reading skills necessary to provide helpful reviews, and you can check for understanding when you discuss the peer review process with your class.
It can be helpful to define all the terms you use on the sheet itself. Some descriptions of writing are so general as to almost be shorthand – we know what we mean by “flow,” “sufficient evidence,” or “clear organization,” but it’s entirely possible that our students do not. You may want to check out our peer review question bank as well as our examples of precise language about writing for alternatives to these kinds of questions.
Clarifying the Purpose of Peer Review
Many of the peer review sheets we looked over began with a list of “goals” for the exercise. In fact, the adaptable peer review sheet included on this site begins by explaining three common goals for peer review:
It can be useful to just talk with your class for a few minutes to make sure they understand why they’re undertaking this project. We find it helpful to remind students that, although they should ultimately decide the value of whatever suggestions they may receive based on their own best judgment, a well-written paper should be clear to anyone in the class who reads it. Everyone, therefore, is capable of offering helpful feedback to their classmates, even if it is as modest as “this paragraph was easier for me to understand than this other one.”
It’s also worth noting that students tend to want to be generous with one another. You may want to remind them that, in this context, the truly generous feedback is that which is thoughtful, thorough, and critical in the best sense of that term.
“Using Peer Review to Help Students Improve Writing.” The Teaching Center. Washington University in St. Louis. n.d. Web. 1 June 2014.
Nilson, Linda B. “Improving Student Peer Feedback.” College Teaching 51.1 (2003): 34-38.