Peer reviews of rough drafts can be a valuable tool in the classroom, but they can also be a disaster. Some students are resistant to others reading their work, while other students lack confidence in their critiquing skills. Early in my teaching career, I simply gave students a pep talk and let them critique each others' papers with little direction. This was a mistake, because it fed into both of these problems, and the results were not helpful to the students. What we ended up with was hit-or-miss proofreading rather than big picture critiques. Here are some tips that have led to effective peer reviews in my classroom:
1. Write specific items to look for on the whiteboard, or pass out a handout. These will vary depending on the type of writing, but some sample items from an argumentative research paper might be:
- Highlight or underline the thesis statement. Does it contain a clear argument?
- Does the author address the counter argument?
- Is the introduction engaging? Does it make you want to read the rest of the paper?
- Read the introduction and the conclusion together. Do they work together?
- Are all the author's points supported by sufficient research
2. Require the students to point out the positive aspects of the paper along with what needs to be improved.
3. Encourage writers not to get defensive when receiving the critique. I tell the students that their job is to listen carefully to the critique, then decide whether to make a given change or not. Some students feel obligated to act on every piece of advice they get, but I caution them to retain ownership of their papers, and make judicious decisions.
4. If you have students who are sensitive about sharing their drafts, you can instruct students to bring anonymous drafts, or allow them to choose their own critique groups.
5. Three to four critiques of a draft is a good number. This will allow the writer to see if readers agree on points of improvement, or if there is a difference of opinion.
5. I end the critique with a "Next Step" assignment, where I ask students to list the three most important things they learned about their paper in the critique groups, and what they are going to revise. This allows them to synthesize the information and make better revision decisions.
Regardless of whether the author gets useful advice from the reviewer, the reviewer always benefits by becoming more aware of how to read like a writer, and hopefully picks up some revision ideas for his or her own essay.