Peer Review and Reflections
Adapting Peer Review for Online Spaces
Many instructors find peer review to be a useful tool in composition and other writing classes because it provides a wider range of feedback for students and can help develop their critical abilities to assess their own writing. Encouraging students to provide thoughtful and in-depth feedback, however, can be challenging in any teaching modality.
When conducting peer review online, models are likely to be even more essential than they would be in a fully face-to-face class. Especially in the first round, it may be helpful for you to provide students with a sample response or two as well as feedback on their peer review. Remember too that if you would like students to take peer review seriously, they should receive some form of credit for it and that credit should be assigned as soon as possible.
Designing Peer Review Questions
In the first half of the semester, as students are learning to identify arguments and their strengths, they may be stronger at providing descriptive responses to their peer’s work rather than making specific suggestions or offering advice. One useful resource for questions that focus student’s attention on ways to describe what they are reading is John Bean, Engaging Ideas, especially the chart on “Judgment vs. Descriptive Questions for Peer Review” (297). Bean's book is available remotely through the York College library.
Within Blackboard, there are a variety of tools you can use to do Peer Review online, ranging from low-tech adaptations of Discussion Board or Blogs to automated tools designed specifically for this purpose that include PeerMark (connected to Turnitin) and Blackboard’s Self and Peer Assessment tool.
In this video, Phebe Kirkham discusses an overview of these Blackboard-based tools and their uses for Peer Review.
Some faculty prefer to use either the PeerMark or the Self and Peer Assessment tools because they automate the assignment of the peer reviews as well as other parts of the process. Others opt to use low-tech methods of setting up peer review in the Discussion Board or the Blog space because those spaces allow the comments to be viewed not just by the instructor, but also by other students. Making the process public within the class can offer a few pedagogical benefits:
- When comments are public, students (and instructors) are aware that the audience for their comments might be larger than a single writer, which can lead them to carefully consider how to balance criticism with diplomacy.
- Comments by fellow students can provide models of what to look for in each other’s writing.
- The instructor can address follow-up comments to more than one student at a time, even directing students to read particularly helpful Peer Review comments.
- The instructor can sum up and agree or even disagree with comments students have made on each other’s papers, which can be helpful both to the writer and the reviewer.
The online space makes it even simpler to have student work become part of the texts for the class. Students can easily access and reflect on their own work and on their classmates work.
To encourage active engagement with their own writing process throughout the semester, you may wish to consider having students write short, focused reflective pieces or letters that accompany their final drafts.
Do be aware, though, that research on reflective writing suggests that there is often a gap between what a student may indicate they did to revise in their reflection and what they actually did in their revised essay (Lindenman et al. 584). Reflections are more likely to encourage more substantive revision when they ask students to focus more on the WHY of their revisions than the WHAT(Lindenman et al. 602).
Reflective letters can also help cue students to the importance of purpose and audience, especially when you ask them to make explicit for you what their aim was for the paper.
This letter can also help you, as the instructor, frame your comments about the paper: you can address major concerns the student has raised, weigh in on whether you think the paper has met the stated purpose, what the paper might have done more clearly, or discuss the ways in which the revisions don’t quite meet the student’s objectives.
For more detailed suggestions on reflection, see:
Lindenman et al, “Revision and Reflection: A Study of (Dis)Connections between Writing Knowledge and Writing Practice” College Composition and Communication, vol. 69, no. 4, 2018, pp. 581-611.