Monday, December 10, 2007

A Little Hope in a Sea of Grading

I'm grading the final peer review responses from my writing class, finishing them up so I'll only have a journal, another response, and the final paper yet to grade.

Most college writing teachers do peer editing or peer review; it's a pretty accepted, standard practice. In order to try to get students to take peer work more seriously and to help them improve at it, I have them write a response (as well as give verbal feedback in class). They bring two copies of each written response to class, and give them to their peers.

The peer underlines the most helpful comments on each copy, and then on one copy writes a response to the response. This response notes what's most helpful about the peer review, and what things the peer could do to make his/her review more helpful. Often, these responses talk about giving specific suggestions, being specific about which paragraph needs development or what part is confusing, and so forth. Then they hand that copy in to me (with the response and underlining). They keep one copy to use as they revise their essay.

I give each response a basic grade (1-10, with 10 being an A+), and early in the semester, make suggestions about asking questions, being specific, and so forth. I glance at the response, and may put a check next to an important point, or a smiley face or "good job!" next to a comment about how helpful the review is. Then I hand them back to the reviewer.

That way, the reviewer gets a peer's response and my response (with a grade). When things work, by about the third essay, students begin to write more specific and helpful responses. They think about what they want in a review, and what their peers want, and do the work involved. Overall, this class has made outstanding progress in this area of writing. (I think reviewing and revising skills are especially important in the real world of jobs and such, too, so this isn't just a classroom exercise.)

And today, as I'm reading, I noticed that several responses made very specific references to things we've discussed or read in the semester. A couple students refered to language from Graff and Birkenstein, others to Christensen's paragraph organization, and a couple others to their "inner English professor." I take these references to mean that at least some students have somewhat incorporated what we've worked on in class into their reading and writing practices. You know, it's almost like they've learned something!


  1. That's a really good idea - reading and giving feedback on the responses too.

    Of course, my brother had this really sarcastic friend who also was too bright for his own good, who used to give responses to horrible work like, "You have chosen very nice paper."

    And reviewing stuff is important - don't you spend quite a bit of time doing academic journal peer review? I sure do (for the boss man).

  2. That's a great idea. I'm totally using this in comp next semester.

    In my comp classes, I did occasionally (or maybe just once) collect the versions of the papers that other students had commented on, and made a little note (for myself) of how well they did. While some were very thorough and clearly trying to help out their classmates, others had made just one or two stray marks on the page (or so it seemed). Making this a graded assignment seems really helpful--and I like the idea of students giving each other feedback on their feedback. Cool.

  3. K8, Thanks :)

    MSILF, Yep, my looking at the responses cuts student impulses to be nasty, I hope.

    Heu Mihi, I hope it works well for you! I warn you, though, reading an extra 2 pages for each student for each essay adds up. :(