CTLT

Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology

Using Peer Review

Requiring students to give and receive feedback on their drafts is a highly effective instructional strategy. While peer review does not replace the instructor's role of evaluation, it can greatly augment the process of revision that leads to better student performance.

Benefits of Peer Review

Ideally, peer review should focus on response and suggestion rather than correction and evaluation. When facilitated well, peer review offers several significant benefits:

  • It benefits the reviewer as much as the recipient. Carefully reading and attentively responding to another student’s writing will help students develop their own compositions.
  • It makes vivid the role of audience. Peer review comments provide more than suggestions and corrections. They provide a record of a specific reader’s response to a piece of writing. 
  • It provides an impetus and a pathway for revision. Because peer review generates actionable feedback, writers are more likely to make substantive and significant revisions, especially when peer review is conducted at least a few days before a revised draft is due.

Protocols for Peer Review: Five Suggestions

The following approaches for peer review can be tailored to fit most disciplines and writing assignments. The CTLT is happy to work with instructors on the development and use of effective peer review protocols.

1) Five Questions

This protocol can be used independently or combined with additional review prompts. It asks the reviewer to play the role of the interlocutor, a reader who asks specific questions to facilitate additional or clarified content.

Either in the margins of the essay or at the end of it, ask five questions that would strengthen the essay if answered.  These questions should ask for more clarity, information, analysis, synthesis, evidence, etc.

2) Guided Response

This protocol asks students to read each other’s papers with specific criteria in mind. Such criteria might be articulated in rubrics and/or communicated on the assignment.

Answer the following questions.  Write your feedback at the end of the paper. 

Thesis:

1) What do you think the thesis of the essay is? In your own words, write out what you think the writer is trying to assert and prove.

2) Is the thesis statement too easy to prove?  Is there a question at issue? If there isn’t a clear question at issue, try to help the writer identify one.

Reasoning:

3) Are there any arguments that you feel are brushed aside too quickly? If so, which ones and why?

4) Can you think of any arguments or counter-arguments the paper should consider, but hasn’t? Try to think of a couple and write them down.

Clarity and Stylistics:

5) Does the paper contain vague words or slack phrasing?  Be a critical reader and write out the words and phrases that need more explanation or reworking. You probably can find several.

6) What other suggestions for revision can you offer the writer?

Now talk with the writer about your comments.  Go through them one at a time.  Answer any questions he or she might have about your comments.   Work together.

3) Descriptive Response

As John Bean points out, peer review prompts calling for descriptive response and reactions often elicit more time on task than judgmental feedback (297).

Judgment-Based Response Descriptive Response (Preferred)

Does the paper have a thesis?

State what position you think the writer is taking.

Is the paper clearly written throughout?

Highlight any passages you had to read more than once to understand what the writer was saying.

How persuasive is the argument?

After reading the paper, do you agree or disagree with the writer’s position? Why or why not?

4) Group Response

For writing groups, it is often useful to provide a basic protocol for the group to follow as members play the role of reviewer and writer.

Role of Reviewers:

Step 1: Each member of the group should read the same group member’s essay at the same time. As you read:

  • Ask at least five questions that will improve the essay if answered.
  • Identify the single most important concern you have with the essay.  Be specific. 

Step 2: Spend five minutes debriefing with the writer.

Role of Writer:

Step 1: Each writer should keep notes on the following;

  • What do my readers think I need to work on the most in my revision?
  • What do their questions tell me about my essay? 
  • What are my own thoughts about my essay?  What are the main features I will work on for my revision?

Step 2: After listening to the group’s feedback, summarize the feedback you received and your plans for revision.

5) Web-Based Peer Review

For courses where in-class peer review presents logistical challenges, instructors might consider the use of web-based resources, such as:

Calibrated Peer Review (CPR)

Although CPR stems from a science-based model, it has the exciting feature that it is discipline independent and level independent. CPR has been adopted in undergraduate and graduate institutions, in professional medical and business schools, and even in secondary schools.

Scaffolded Writing and Rewriting in the Discipline (SWoRD)

A cloud-based writing and peer review, using double-blind and multiple (3-6) reviewers, SWoRD generates data to confirm if learning objectives are being met and provides guidance on rubric improvement.

Useful Sources

Bean, John. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking and Active Learning in the Classroom. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

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