Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology

Understanding Peer Review

(From Teaching with Writing: A Conversation Series)

"Instructors use peer feedback to afford students multiple assessments of their work and to help them acquire important lifelong skills."  
Knowledge transfer, between classes in a discipline, Gen Ed, or interdisciplinarily, takes meta-cognition and reflection, and that work often happens (in universities) as “writing to:”  
  • Learn 
  • Reflect
  • Discover 
  • Apply knowledge 
  • Understand how disciplinary knowledge works in non-disciplinary contexts and vice versa
  • Communicate/share knowledge with non-disciplinary audiences

Revision and reflection are the work of writing; that’s why writing is such a good tool for developing meta-cognition.

Reflection can come in many forms: it is not just breezy, free-form journaling. It can be focused and tight when we give students not-too-generous, not-too-tight parameters for doing a particular reflective activity. Focused Peer Review is perhaps the activity that gives you the most return for your efforts. Students learn a lot about reading and writing when they are guided to critically engage with each other's responses to an assignment. This short page from Southwestern University, "Benefits of Peer Review," sums up these benefits nicely, and "Activities for Focused Peer Review," from the Writing Across the Curriculum program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is helpful in productively directing students' reviews of others' work so that both the writer and the reader gain insight into the writing process and the specific assignment for your class.

Here is another way to frame peer review in this short handout, "Guided Question for Peer Review," from the Writing Center at the University of Colorado-Denver. Linda B. Nilson's study, "Improving Student Peer Feedback," is one of the best articles on peer review. The list of questions she develops on page 36, "...that [encourage] neutral, informative, and thorough responses that add genuine value to the peer feedback process" (p34), is an excellent place to get ideas for your own peer review rubrics. 

Inspired by conversations with faculty about how well (or how poorly) students read academic texts and studies, here are a couple of bonus reads: two short handouts from the University of Colorado-Denver, "Critical Reading & Critical Thinking," and "Engaging with Academic Texts." See what you think.

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