Peer Reviews as Teaching Strategy
Use Writing Workshops to Stimulate Student Writing
The relaxed, informal atmosphere of peer reviews can help students gain feedback from a variety of potential readers-their fellow students.
One of the pratfalls of college writing courses is that students quickly learn the instructor’s biases and preferred writing styles. They can then tailor their work to appeal to the professor for the sole purpose of passing the course. As an essay writer, I can say that while such an approach may serve students’ immediate desires, it does nothing to teach them how to use writing in other courses or non-academic contexts.
One strategy that professors can use to broaden student writing is peer reviews.
Peer Reviews as Writing Workshops
A common feature of composition courses, peer reviews can be a valuable teaching strategy in any course where writing is involved. Peer reviews function essentially the same way as writing workshops: Students sit around in a circle, exchange drafts of their work, read their work as a group, and then offer constructive feedback.
Peer reviews offer several important learning benefits to students. First, they make students aware of the necessity of writing for an audience other than their professor. This is a valuable practice for on-the-job writing, in which students may one day attempt to persuade or inform readers of diverse backgrounds and beliefs. Understanding how such readers may respond to the student’s views or topic can give them valuable insight.
Second, peer reviews force students out of their comfort zones. Many students try to glide in college courses by contributing as little as possible. But a peer review makes sharing their work mandatory. It also holds them accountable not just to the professor but also to their peer group. Few students want to show up for class without a draft or enough copies to share.
Some students protest that they are shy or don’t do well in groups. Peer reviews, however, offer a fairly low-risk environment in which students can learn to express themselves and work in groups, skills they will find necessary in most professions, even in an online learning course. Most peer group members—who are also taking risks by sharing their work—loathe embarrassing another student, regardless of the quality of writing. Also, practice sharing their work with others over a semester can help students to gradually overcome reticence.
Giving and Receiving Criticism
The third benefit of peer groups, and perhaps the most important, is that students learn how to give and receive feedback. Professors can stimulate peer group discussions by passing out a review sheet with a series of questions for students to consider as they work their way through each draft. Such questions may contain answers to be circled or space for short responses:
- Does the introduction hook you as a reader? Yes Somewhat No
- Does the thesis statement forecast the essay’s content? Yes Somewhat No
- Do you find the writer’s argument convincing? Why or why not?
- Does the writer use effective examples to support his or her points? If not, what kinds of support would be more effective?
The review sheet is meant only to serve as a guide. Peer groups often find ways of stimulating discussion, and they should be encouraged to do so. Professors may wish to model how to give constructive criticism. For example, instead of saying, “I don’t like your intro,” a student might say, “I think your intro will be more effective if you open with a question.”
However, students need to be made aware that all criticism is good criticism, and that even the harshest comment, whether deliberate or not, can provoke discussion and reflection on the part of the writer. For example, a student may benefit from knowing how her argument in favor of biomedical testing struck a nerve with another student, whose parents own an animal shelter.
Both students should feel free to express their views and learn from each other.
The relaxed, informal atmosphere of peer groups—with the professor observing and being available to answer questions but generally not interfering—can teach students the value of sharing their work. This, in turn, can bolster their confidence in presenting their work to other audiences who might benefit from what they have to offer.
About the author: Bianca J. Ward is a professional writer at EssayWriterFree where she provides people with qualitative works. Besides, she is a passionate photographer and traveler who has visited 52 countries all over the world. Bianca dreams about creating a photo exhibition to present her works to others.