Attack of the Peer Review!

We’re finally at the revision stage. The participants have looped through prewriting; they’ve taken slow steps through the drafting stage; and now during peer reviews, they are either drowning as beaten-down writers, or resurfacing above all fears as confident authors.

Last Friday was the first time the participants shared their writing in peer response groups. Some groups were so engaged that I couldn’t get them to take a break! But this wasn’t the case for one group in particular. I’ll call them, The Trio.

Sorry, I'm having too much fun with my Comic Strip iPhone app. They really aren't this shocking :P

On Thursday, I assigned participants to their groups, and to help them make the transition, we talked about their fears and hopes around sharing their paragraph assignments. I thought we made good progress. During the discussion, they discovered they shared the same fears as their group mates so they realized that no matter what the perceived level, they all felt nervous. They came to the conclusion that by sharing their drafts, they would be able to improve their writing. Although they were apprehensive, they were also curious to read what their peers wrote, and also looked forward to receiving their support.

But each year that I ask my participants to work in these groups, I share their apprehensive feelings. Am I asking them to do something that they really don’t feel confident doing? Am I asking them to expose themselves when they don’t want to? Do they know enough about paragraph structure to be able to give good feedback?

For example, on Friday The Trio was done in 30 minutes! It usually takes that much time to do a peer review for one person, and here they had already “finished” two reviews. I’m making an assumption based on my observation of these participants throughout the course so far, but it seems to me that they didn’t trust themselves, or the others, to give a helpful review. Either some didn’t want to listen to the others, or some of them didn’t want to share their thoughts because they were ashamed of their ability. In any case, it was a silent group. Perhaps this combination of participants just wasn’t the right match.

When I compare The Trio to the others, I feel a small sense of relief. At least the other groups were right on track; I sensed that they were doing their best to give and receive feedback. I know each time I ask participants to get into peer review groups, there is always a risk that The Trio situation will occur.

So, what am I going to do about it? There isn’t much I can do. If they don’t feel ready to give feedback, or if they don’t feel comfortable in their group, I can’t change that now. The only thing I can do is give them the chance to make it better in the future, in another group. I can help them voice their concerns and help them see where they might want to change themselves.

After all the peer reviews are done tomorrow, I’m going to split the members into new groups, and ask them to discuss these questions:

  • How did the peer review group improve your writing?
  • How was the peer review group not helpful?
  • What would you change about the peer review process the next time you try it?

Once they’ve had the chance to think of their answers, hopefully neither I nor The Trio will feel as apprehensive when peer review time comes up again next session.

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8 thoughts on “Attack of the Peer Review!

  1. I would like to know what questions and steps you have them go through doing the peer review. In my classes we do editing of each other’s writing, but I have a feeling what you have your students do is more involved. Care to share a file/document? :)

    1. Sure I’ll give you some tips/files. Peer review is a very touchy subject, and each year I’m still not fully at ease when they get into it. This book really helped me understand the dynamics http://press.umich.edu/titleDetailDesc.do?id=8952. Most of the time success (learning) has nothing to do about the questions you pose, and all to do about the relationships in the group. Just send me an email telling me exactly what you’re looking for, and when you need it by, and I’ll hook you up as best as I can. Take care sista!

  2. Thanks for covering this topic. I always wonder how helpful peer review is in the long run aside from giving me a deadline. Sometimes I share this with my students. We talk about the types of errors that we’d like to hear about. When I actually work (myself, not as a teacher) with peer review groups, I most appreciate concretely what works and what doesn’t and what is missing. If I don’t have a feeling of this when I leave, then I feel it hasn’t been productive. I feel like sharing my own disappointments with my students (now as a teacher) helps us all (as a class) try to rise to a new level. I really appreciate your covering of it. It gives me additional ideas.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your thoughts on this Elizabeth. When you wrote, “I feel like sharing my own disappointments with my students (now as a teacher) helps us all (as a class) try to rise to a new level.” my curiosity was peaked. Do you mean that you shared your disappointment with peer review in your personal experience? Also, how have you shared your disappointment? Did you just tell them after they went through the peer review?

      After it was all said and done, I learned that if I ask them to do a peer review, I really need to step back. I thought it would be ok to give my feedback after all the peers had done, but it backfired. Oh well. We do what we can. Also, they also recognize the value. It’s just that the bad experiences are more memorable.

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