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I suspect we all use peer review in some form or other. If we can help students become effective peer reviewers, then we give them a skill that helps them improve their writing without a teacherly intervention. Peer review makes writing public, so students see what others are doing and learn indirectly. We also help students become valuable workplace writers, because they know how to interact with others to improve writing within an organization.

 

My typical pattern in my introcomp class is to have students arrive to class with a completed draft, ready for peer review. We work from stated criteria on a given assignment, so students get in the habit of asking whether a document fulfills requirements and meets the purposes of the assignment. Comments, of course, range widely and do not stick strictly to the criteria on the rubric, but that is OK. We will often work in pairs.

 

I have a morning class this term, and I generally set a deadline for 11:30 pm that evening to turn in revisions. What I like about the system—and what students like, too—is that peer review makes a difference, immediately. Students might get some really helpful feedback and want to act upon it. Students might decide after seeing a couple of papers from others that they need to make some major changes. Or they might realize they fulfilled part of the assignment, but forgot to attend to some criterion. Or they might realize they have pretty good work in hand and just need do some final editing before submitting. Because the assignment is due the same day, students get immediate help, and the peer comments are fresh when they revise later that day. I get better work, and I get more work out of the students.

 

There are different ways to do peer review, and using available technology opens up more opportunity to play with the structure in a way that benefits students most. In my class, everyone brings a laptop (and we have a few Surface tablets for those without), and sometimes I have students pull up their texts in Word, turn on Track Changes, and then we play musical chairs. Students work at the author’s laptop, inserting comments and suggesting changes. They learn to use some very useful editing tools, and each student can quickly review two or three papers, so everyone gets feedback from more than one reader. Students like this approach because they feel freer in this setting, where they are not face-to-face with the author, to offer criticism, to suggest meaningful revisions, and to ask real questions about the text and its effectiveness.

 

But I also like to mix up my approach to peer review. My students sit at tables where they have a large shared screen. Anyone can connect by cable or wirelessly, and students can put their work up in front of other students. So sometimes we will put up a paper, especially an early draft, in front of the whole team (4-6 students per team). They can talk as a group about the writer’s approach, the strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps review two papers in class with the group agreeing to offer individual peer reviews to others outside of class. I let the teams manage the logistics.

 

My team tables are permanent through the course term, so students really get to know one another and establish good working patterns. But sometimes we work across teams. I’ll have everyone post their work to Sakai, our class management system, in the Forum (or Discussion) area, as an attachment. Students can then download the attachment, comment on the text either in the text itself or in the dialog box in Sakai, and review anyone’s text. I ask everyone to give at least two reviews and get at least two. Some do more. Many, I suspect, read quite a few of their classmates’ texts, learning to see what is strong or weak, what is novel or predictable, in the work of others. A collateral benefit of this approach is that students learn to be careful when downloading, renaming, and saving files so they can work on them. They use those handy Word tools to track changes and comments, and then upload their annotated files to the Forum. Students get to see what other reviewers do, and we can have a follow-up discussion about whose review comments were most helpful and why. A very natural modeling process for peer reviews leads to stronger future reviews.

I spent the weekend in wonderful Savannah, Georgia, at the Student Success in Writing Conference. The wonderful event led me to conversations with teachers from high schools, two-year colleges, and four-year colleges.

 

I got to meet Bits guest bloggers Kim Haimes-Korn and Jeanne Bohannon, who presented on “Transcending Tech-Tools: Engaging Students through Critical Digital Pedagogies.” Jeanne shared a video animation project that focused on “A Day in the Life” stories that developed students’ critical thinking skills by requiring them to consider another point of view, and Kim talked about an assignment that asks students to use digital timeline tools to publish literacy narratives. I’m hopeful that they will share more details in a future post.

 

Sarah Domet and Margaret Sullivan discussed “Practical Approaches to Multimodal Composition.” Their themed blog assignment transforms their first-year writing course into a semester-long writing and research project that students publish on WordPress.com blogs or Weebly.com websites. I loved their historicization web essay, which asked students to trace the development of their topic from past to current events. Their student examples showed students deeply engaged with their research. Students read and engage with one another’s blogs, culminating in bloggy awards at the end of the semester for categories like best overall blog and best home page. I’m not quite sure how to fit the activities into my own classes right now, but I’m certainly working on it.

 

I regret that I missed Natalie James’s presentation on “Teaching Tumblr: Blogging towards Critical Discourse,” but I had a nice conversation with her between sessions. Her presentation focused on the ways that “Tumblr can give students tools for practicing critical discourse in a relevant and engaging online environment.” I cannot wait to find her materials in the conference’s Digital Commons archive.

 

My own presentation focused on “Ten Ways to Use Digital Tools in the Writing Classroom.” I shared a collection of assignments and activities that I have used in the writing classroom to engage students. Some of the ideas I have already talked about in Bits posts, like my Pinterest Assignments and my Digital Identity Mapping Activity, but you will find some new ideas and student examples in the presentation resources as well.

 

Overall, I had a grand time in Savannah. The conference is a perfect size, allowing you to connect with colleagues and meet new collaborators, and because of the focus on practical writing strategies, I left every session with a list of ideas for my own classes. I recommend that you check out the Call for Proposals for the 2016 Conference, and submit your proposal beginning June 15. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll have a grand time too.