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Using Peer Review

BestPractices-Writing Instruction

Initiated by Hava Levitt

Why should I use peer-review in my basic writing course?

Peer-review can support student-writing in many different classroom cultures. The core values of peer-review culture, like those of classroom culture generally, tend to be established by teacher ideology. Peer-review, therefore, can serve curricula ranging from the traditionally normative (i.e. enforcement of traditional school grammar, initiate basic writing pedagogy) to the emancipatory (i.e. Tom Fox’s oppositional cultures and Joseph Harris’s extension of Pratt’s contact zone pedagogy). The kinds and amount of feedback we offer as teachers prior to peer-review serve as the model for actual peer-review practices by demonstrating those pedagogical values in practice.

Regardless of the pedagogy within which it takes place, peer-review offers student-writers an opportunity to analyze text critically in the context of a community of textual practitioners, both as readers and as writers—to explore organization and exposition of ideas, word choice, structure of arguments, and all manner of opportunities for revision. Further, peer-review can also challenge students’ negative self-images as writers. While students identified as basic writers (SBW) are frequently initially hesitant to comment critically on one another’s writing because they do not feel sufficiently expert to comment with credibility and because they want to avoid hurting one another’s feelings, “peer response groups [can function] as a way to empower basic writers [and] …encourage students to see their written texts as part of academic discourse” (Grobman, 48). Experience with peer-review can also help students get past their fear of offending because “student responders learn that they have useful and creative things to say about their peers’ work” (Holt, 386).

How can I elicit substantive feedback from my basic writing students in peer-review?

by striving to ensure that the peer-review context will be a safe space for risk-taking

  • In addition to modeling constructive, compassionate feedback practices, engaging the class in an explicit discussion of peer-review etiquette before using peer-review can be a helpful way to ensure that students feel safe enough to risk making their work available for critique. The Peer Review Page at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa’s Writing Program website suggests developing a written set of “ground rules/guidelines for peer-review” that includes such points as “make comments text-specific” and “don’t overwhelm the writer.” The goal of setting boundaries for peer-review is to encourage constructive, strength-building analysis, and reassure students who hold back from providing feedback for fear of hurting feelings. It is also useful to consider assigning students to term-long peer-review groups as “groups need time to establish a sense of mutual obligation” and trust, and to encourage or require that groups regularly engage in self-examination. Fox offers the following questions for group self-analysis: “How is the group operating? Who’s talking and why? Where does the power of the group reside?” (Fox, 119–120).

by including “peer-group leaders” in peer-review sessions

  • Students identified as basic writers may not feel that they know enough about writing to comment credibly on text, or they may not have had much experience with peer-review. In order to help students identified as basic writers develop peer-review practices that go beyond superficial response to issues of surface conventions, Laurie Grobman proposes employing “peer group leaders” in the basic writing peer-review group. She suggests choosing a student who has completed a basic writing class successfully, had experience with peer review and writing within academic conventions, and who possesses the following qualities: “leadership, integrity, maturity, and sensitivity” (50). The peer-group leader can provide “instructional assistance on how to respond to peers’ writing…and lead students away from purely directive response” therefore emphasizing student-writer agency (51). The responsibility for all drafting decisions ultimately rests with the writer; peer-reviewers offer analysis and perspective, not answers and prescription.

by incorporating written analysis into peer-review practice

  • Using written analysis in peer-review provides student-readers with the opportunity to respond to one another’s work at length, therefore making it possible to explain comments more fully and alleviate some of the anxiety about hurting one another’s feelings. Further, written analysis takes peer-review “seriously as a writing exercise” making peer-review an opportunity for student-writers to practice the kinds of critical writing that makes up so much of academic writing, at least in the humanities (Holt, 384). Written analysis can be prompted in various ways: simple margin comments, feedback checklists, and open-ended questions, but the latter is most likely to elicit substantive criticism and thorough explanation.

by employing interactive technology

  • While face-to-face peer-review can be uniquely beneficial—for example, when student-writers hear a peer read their papers back to them, their text is de-familiarized and it is easier for them to hear what ‘works’ and what doesn’t—but interactive technology has much to offer student-writers in peer-review. Email, posting boards, and interactive online chat can all host peer-review, but research tends to favor the asynchronous methods over real-time ones. As with hardcopy written peer-review, using electronic communication technology gives peer-reviewers “practice using writing to express their thoughts,… the time and distance to think carefully about … their reactions to a text, … and the flexibility to read and reread” and easily edit their comments as their thinking unfolds (Crank, 145–6). Moreover, as use of internet technologies becomes more and more ingrained in daily life, using them in writing courses, basic or otherwise, connects the world of academic writing to the world of work and home.

University of Hawai’i at Manoa Writing Program Peer Review

Colorado State University Teaching Guides: Using Peer Review


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Page last modified on April 26, 2006, at 10:23 PM