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Including peer reviews in your writing course will give students a critical skill set in evaluating their own writing.  By teaching them to see mistakes in others’ papers, they will be able to edit their own more efficiently.  Unfortunately, instructors often fail to properly teach peer review in their classes.

First, eliminate the assumption that students have somehow learned peer-editing skills through the process of writing essays in high school.  Most students actually have little experience in examining a fellow student’s paper. Nor do they understand the assessment tools their instructors are using to grade their assignments. 

Without classroom instruction, novice peer reviewers will leave anemic comments that tend to be neutral or slightly positive, such as “Pretty good” or “Too short, no conclusion.”  Pointing out the obvious helps no one and softening the blow with half-hearted encouragement does not improve anyone’s writing.

There is a better way.

Teaching and assigning peer reviews give students experience in collaboration, evaluation, and close reading. They learn to carefully construct their arguments on paper and defend them verbally one-on-one. By reviewing each other’s drafts using appropriate assessment tools, they will better understand the instructor’s expectations for the assignment as well.

Approach peer editing assignments as you would other learning units. This is not just some writing process box to thoughtlessly tick, but a valuable skill set that students will use later. Plan for their needs and experience level. Point out that revision is the heart of writing and postgraduate articles are always read by peers before publication.

Write a separate rubric that is free of excessively academic language. Think of your students during development: Will they understand the document and be able to use it to assess their peers’ papers?

Further, take the peer editing activity seriously enough to make it its own unit early in the semester rather than a tack-on to some essays.

This unit should include:

  • Sample writing to critique
  • Demonstrations of assessment
  • Demonstrations of excellent communication
    between the author and the editor
  • An overview of expectations for all parties
  • A large-group discussion on tactful language, combined with small-group scenarios.

Peer review assignments should be useful and instructive. Treat them as such, and your students will grow as writers and editors.