Question of the day: What do you do during peer review?

Michael Laser and Tavya Jackson suggested that we feature questions about some general teaching situations on the blog, so that we can get input from varied quarters and discussion of some of our common classroom challenges.

To kick things off, here’s one from Michael:

“Today we did peer review of my classes’ 1st drafts. While the students read and commented on each others’ work, I occupied myself at the front of the room. Instinct told me that a great teacher would have been doing something different – engaging and helping somehow. But I didn’t want to intrude on their concentration and conversations.

Any thoughts? What do you do while they’re reading and taking notes on each others’ work?”

Please weigh in below.

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6 thoughts on “Question of the day: What do you do during peer review?

  1. I think the answer to “What should we do during peer review?” varies a lot depending on your students. In some classes, students really get into the peer review process, stay focused, and give each other useful feedback. In classes like these, I tend to be more hands-off during peer review, because–like you, Mike–I don’t want to intrude or shut down an interaction that is going well.

    However, in some classes, there are students who seem to take the words “peer review” as an invitation to play with their phones, have personal conversations, do work for other classes, or nap. When I realize I have a class like this on my hands, I get much more involved in peer review. Sometimes I’ll create worksheets that the students have to fill out and give back to each other, to help keep them focused (and, I’m afraid, to make it clear to them that I will be evaluating the work they do as peer reviewers). I also move around the room a lot more with these types of classes and “check in” with the students. I’ll give the class five to ten minutes to read the other person’s essay, then quietly start walking around the room. If a particular student or pair of students is obviously on-task and concentrating, I’ll keep moving without interrupting them, but if a student or pair of students appears to be doing something other than peer review, I’ll stop and ask them some questions, usually starting with “How’s it going?” I find that sometimes students aren’t engaging with the task because they’re not sure what to do or say as peer reviewers, and giving them a chance to express that uncertainty can open up a conversation in which I can model or lead the students through a useful peer review. And sometimes, of course, students just don’t want to apply themselves to the task of reading and commenting on someone else’s paper, in which case the prospect of the professor hovering over their shoulders can be motivation enough. (Most of the time, though, I do think their reluctance stems from uncertainty rather than laziness.)

  2. My methods are very much in line with Tavya’s. Whether I sit up front, or mill about, is dependent on what I see (or sense) happening among partners or groups. Most times I do in-class peer review, I make sure students have a definitive task, especially early on in the semester when I’m still “training” them into reading and writing practices often new to them. I also model the task in a whole class workshop with a student draft before separating them into groups/partners. That modeling is crucial for helping students who lose focus get back on task. When/if I walk around, I have something concrete to refer to — especially since there are likely notes still on the board from that work. Finally, very often, homework for that evening is reliant on all of that in-class work — and students start to get the sense for that as the semester progresses.

    Of course, there are those partners or groups who continue to be idle and get distracted, even after I’ve stuck my nose in. At that point, I feel more comfortable leaving them to their own devices. I’m only willing to ‘hand hold’ so much.

  3. My approach to managing peer reviews in the classroom is very similar to Tavya’s and Maria’s–I’m pretty hands off unless it seems students need some extra clarification or motivation.

    But I almost always give a worksheet to help guide peer reviews. I do this not only because I find it promotes diligence during the designated peer review classtime, but also because most first-year writers can benefit from a guided reading of their peers’ essays. I usually have students peer review first or second drafts, and so at this stage in their writing process, I want to help steer them away from only editing or proofreading their peers’ drafts, which is (in my experience, at least) the default for students when asked to peer review in a relatively open-ended manner. This is, in many cases, because students aren’t “trained” yet as Maria says for how to constructively read and critique drafts, and so I see the worksheets as supplemental instruction of that process (supplementing my in-class teaching, that is). When I provide specific questions, I find the peer reviews much more productive and, in the long run, helpful for students as they learn to revise their own drafts as well as others’.

  4. I take essentially the same approach as Tatum, but for the last two semesters I’ve been trying something that has worked fairly well.

    I spend 3-4 minutes speaking to each student, in turn, in a sort of mini-conference. It gives me a chance to hear what students are planning to work on, answer questions, make suggestions, etc. And since I’m right there among them, students can more easily ask me questions if they are uncertain about something and it ensures that some of the ones who might slack a bit don’t do so.

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