Peer reviews are beneficial to the reviewer and reviewee alike. Students benefit most from peer reviews when a few things are set in place.
When one of my teaching friends noticed I was using peer reviews in my classroom, she commented that she never used them. Why? “It’s like the blind leading the blind,” she stated.
But I disagree.
Students can become great peer reviewers. They can develop the skills needed to be accurate, astute readers who can provide valuable feedback to classmates. When students can evaluate their peers’ writing, they can then apply those same analysis skills to their own writing.
But before students can do that, they need to know what a peer review is, what it looks like, and how it all works.
Here are some ways to make peer reviews effective:
1. Revision vs Proofreading
When asked to complete a peer review, most students will proofread. They’ll look for spelling errors or sentence fragments before they’ll examine the content and construction of a piece of writing. These are the things they think we are asking them to do.
Avoid this by making sure your students know the difference between revision and proofreading.
Sometimes it helps to deconstruct the word “revision.” Re = again + vision = see. Encourage students to think about what that means — they are looking at a piece of writing with “fresh eyes.” They can provide the writer incredible insight since they are able to “see” the text in a new way.
2. Limit the scope/task for the reviewer
Asking a student to review everything (ideas, thesis, introduction, sentence structure, transitions, etc.) dramatically increases the overwhelm factor — and the likelihood that a reviewer won’t be able to provide the writer with real help.
Limit what you are asking students to review. So, you may want them to review an introduction, use of transitions, or whether or not the “big idea” is clear. Limiting student revision means:
- students are practicing looking for elements of writing that they should have in their own texts
- students understand what those elements are
- students are using higher level thinking skills to analyze what they are reading
This teaching strategy is gold!
When you model, students can see, hear, and understand what you want them to do. Perfect for teaching them how to peer review.
Start by using a sample draft. I always write “student” samples because it would be embarrassing for a student to see his or her paper (whether good or bad) shared with the class. Most of the time, I use a paper that has obvious flaws. I talk through what I notice in the draft and what kind of feedback I will give to the student. (This is also a great time to challenge students to a “fix it” activity. Have them revise the student draft to correct the mistake – this makes a quick writing activity that engages them with the writing concept immediately. Plus, provides them an opportunity to practice this skill.)
Use whatever feedback sheet you want your students to use as you clearly model what you want your students to do.
4. Use a rubric
As far as I am concerned, rubrics are game changers when it comes to teaching! Not only do they let students know exactly what they need to accomplish, they also make your grading easier!
You can break down your rubric into peer review tasks. For example, have peer reviewers to check for an engaging introduction.
Teach this by:
- using the item in the rubric as a mini lesson — that way students understand what it is
- modeling a peer review for just that one item
- allowing students to peer review for just that one item — depending on your students, you might even want to provide an additional student sample text and allow students to review with a partner
- be sure to allow a “debriefing” at the end of class or an exit slip that will provide you with feedback
5. Ask for evidence
Another game changer for peer reviews. Rather than simply giving peer reviewers a checklist (which they gleefully check off!), I ask them to provide proof. If I ask reviewers to determine whether or not the writer provided sensory details, they must show exactly where in the text they found them. No simple check marks!
Why is this a game changer?
- students must identify proof as to whether or not a writer met the criteria of the review
- students must understand what that proof should look like
- students must be able analyze a piece of writing to determine what the writer has provided
- this opens up a dialogue between the writer and the reviewer — students can question one another about the writing intent and the outcome
- the proof clarifies three things: what the criteria being reviewed looks like, whether the writer knows how to incorporate it into his or her writing, and whether the reviewer can identify it
6. Gradually scale up
This process seems like baby steps, but once they understand what you are looking for, you can add multiple review tasks. For example, you might want them to review the thesis, introduction, and transitions.
As the school year progresses, you can add the items you want your students to review. Again, they will be most successful if they understand what they are looking for and what kind of feedback you expect.
Warning: Don’t overload the peer reviewer. Your students will be most effective with fewer items to review.
7. Define acceptable feedback
This is so important! What does acceptable feedback look like? Hint: It doesn’t include “Write more” or “Add more detail”!!
Challenge students to provide concrete, real, actionable feedback. You’ll help them do this through modeling. You can also help them do this by encouraging them to discuss what makes good feedback. A quick pre-peer review brainstorming session will help students clarify what to say.
You can include a running list on your classroom wall that could include these ideas:
- add sensory detail to sentence ___ in paragraph ___
- you need a fact to support your claim in sentence __ in paragraph __
- what is your “big idea”? I’d like to see it in your first paragraph
- how are you engaging your reader in the first paragraph? What is your hook?
8. Use “fill-in-the-blanks”
Your students may benefit from a “fill-in-the-blanks” format to make sure they complete all of the items and give sufficient proof. You can do this by asking students to give an example of what they notice in the draft. For example, if you are asking students to determine whether or not the writer has a thesis statement, ask reviewers to identify the thesis statement. They can either underline it in the draft or fill in the blank on their review sheet.
As you model the peer review process, you can share how you want students to fill in that information.
9. Rinse & repeat
It’s not reasonable for students to peer review one paper several times — looking for something different with each reading. Students will get bored, and the entire writing process will slow waaay down.
However, you can repeat the process described above with each writing activity your students take on. With each new writing assignment, teach students how to complete a peer review using a different task.
As you do this, your peer reviewers will become comfortable with the process and improve their reviewing skills. You can move students on to more sophisticated writing tasks.
I hope you’ll give peer reviews a try, and let me know what you think. You can find a set of interactive peer review sheets in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.