Organizing Peer Editing

Peer editing–the practice of having students read and provide focused feedback on drafts of each other’s works–became popular in college-level writing courses during the curriculum reforms of the 1960s and 70s, but as Anne Ruggles Gere details in her Writing Groups: History, Theory, and Implications (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1987), less formal versions of this practice have been prominent in writing instruction for over two centuries. Then, as now, the benefits of peer review were taken to include increase in student investment in the drafting process and the placement of greater emphasis on the connection between building skills in writing and reading. Below are descriptions of classic and contemporary scholarship on the best practices for organizing peer review activities.

Cahill, Lisa. “Reflections on Peer Review Practices.” Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition. Eds. Duane Rosen et al. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2002: 301-307.  
In this piece, Lisa Cahill advocates for student involvement in creating peer-review protocols.  In doing so, she points up the downfalls inherent in many peer-review practices.  Specifically, she argues that simply handing a student a sheet of questions to be answered by his/her peer(s) encourages silence instead of interaction.  In addition to isolating students, this process does not allow for a thorough understanding of the writing process and how it is to respond to the demands of particular audiences.  Drawing on Lester Faigley, she seeks to draw students into the peer-review process by having students develop specific peer-review questions that are unique to a particular assignment.  In addition to fostering a rhetorical awareness of a piece, Cahill claims having students involved in the generating of peer-review protocols also prepares them for the “professional, civic, personal, and academic” endeavors by encouraging interpersonal communication.

Cho, Kwangsu, and Charles MacArthur. “Student Revision with Peer and Expert Reviewing.” Learning and Instruction 20 (2010): 328-338.
This piece details the results of an empirical study of how feedback from a single peer, a single “expert” (a writing instructor), and multiple peers affect students’ revisions of their work. Cho and MacArthur provide a concise overview of the research on the general benefits of feedback on drafts as well as the logistical difficulties facing instructors who would wish to provide such feedback themselves (largely the burden of evaluating and commenting on multiple version of each required assignment). The general findings of their study demonstrate that students tend to make more significant changes in response to the review by a peer as opposed to that of an “expert,” and that this difference was multiplied in conjunction with the use of multiple peer reviewers. Overall, Cho and MacArthur speculate that these results are due to the fact that peer reviewers tend to provide more non-directive feedback (which provide a recipient with a greater range of revision possibilities than directive feedback) and also tend to articulate their feedback in terms more familiar and accessible to their peers.

Gielen, Sarah, et al. “Improving the Effectiveness of Peer Feedback for Learning.” Learning and Instruction 20 (2010): 304-315.
This article presents the results of an empirical study into whether generally accepted criteria for “formative assessment” (feedback that designed to support learning) effectively translates to peer review activities; the authors also discuss the effect of including an “a posteriori reply form” (a reflective comment by students on the feedback they have received) in the review process.

Miller, Susan K. “Using Group Conferences to Respond to Essays in Progress.” Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition. Eds. Duane Rosen et al. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2002: 291-310. 
Miller argues for the importance of aligning student-feedback with that of the instructor in order to foster a productive and egalitarian writing and review process.  She makes her argument by providing examples of a student’s rough-draft essay, a peer reviewer’s comments, her own comments on the essay, as well as the revised student essay.  Miller stresses the importance of having peer-reviewers focus on the positive moves authors make in the drafts, while framing critique in the form of a question.  This method, Miller suggests, draws student and teacher rough-draft comments closer together.  By noting the similarities, the emphasis is no longer on the instructor’s feedback alone.  As a result of the peer-review sessions, students are given the confidence needed to write both effective essays and reviews.

Paton, Fiona. “Approaches to Productive Peer Review.” Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition. Eds. Duane Rosen et al. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2002: 291-310.
This piece provides what Paton describes as an “introduction to peer-review.” Paton presents a three-part overview of the peer review process: 1) presenting peer review, 2) setting-up peer review, and 3) maintaining peer review. When presenting peer review, Paton suggests adopting a “realistic” approach that presents peer review as a process that will not “magically” improve papers. Instead, peer review should be presented as a process that warrants practice and diligence. Setting-up peer review entails developing specific instructions that can be explained and justified to students. Peer review questions should be fewer in number, but call for more engaging answers instead of simple “yes” or “no” responses. As “rough-draft” often means “barely legible notes hastily scribbled,” Paton also emphasizes the importance of students attending class with a typed and “completed” draft. This both “professionalizes” the peer review process and makes it more productive for students. Lastly, maintaining peer review involves producing peer review questions that are specific to each individual assignment. This allows the instructor to restate the specific criteria of each piece as well as keep students engaged in the accompanying peer review session. Paton also recommends having students keep a “log” that asks them to reflect on the peer review process. In closing, Paton provides fourteen bulleted “Guidelines for Peer Review” that provide an overview of her argument and can be “reviewed and consulted easily.”

Roen, Duane. “A Possible Sequence of Peer-Group Responses to a Student’s Emerging Text–Autobiographical Essay.” Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition. Eds. Duane Rosen et al. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2002: 318-324.
In this article, Roen presents a two very detailed, multi-day sequences, for peer review of two different assignments (an autobiographical essay and an argument paper). The steps outlined here (one taking place over 7 days and one over 10 days) are designed to allow other activities to take place during the same session and pay particular attention to deepening students’ engagements with each other as writers in addition to improving the quality of these specific projects.

Strasma, Kip. “‘Spotlighting”: Peer-Response in Digitally Supported First-Year Writing Courses.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 37.2 (December 2009): 153-160.
This article relates the lessons learned by the author in over a decade of refining peer response activities using course management software, wikis, and other Internet-enabled writing and reading spaces. Strasma argues for the value of having each student being “spotlighted” once per semester by having all students in the class read and annotate one of their projects (as opposed to having a larger number of theirr projects read by a much smaller number of students). Strasma also emphasizes the benefits of compelling students to make their drafts available online (via open-source or proprietary CMS’s such as Moodle, Blackboard, or a wiki engine), noting, in particular of these systems will allow students to also rank the feedback provided by their peers (encouraging better work and relieving instructors of some of the burden of oversight).


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