One learns how to write, in part, by learning how to read and respond to others' writing. Giving students an opportunity to read each other's essays will also foster the intellectual community and conversation of the classroom. In the midst of working on their own research projects and considering how to make arguments and counterarguments, students are in a wonderfully attuned toward reading their peers' work.
Assign peer reviews to at least one draft of the research project. It is a good idea to get students into groups of three for this process so that each student will have two sets of comments. Use the following guidelines and suggestions to help structure the process. It is also a good idea to type some version of the bulleted points up and provide room for students' responses on the handout. They can also make comments on copies of the essay but it is important for peers to write comments in complete sentences on the handout in order to facilitate the review process.
A General Note to Peer Reviewers: Your initial response to an essay written by your peer may include expressions of empathy, sympathy, or admiration for an accomplishment or identification with an experience. These are terrific ways to begin providing each other with feedback. But remember that in addition to being supportive, one goal in reviewing each other's work is to learn from your classmates and to help them learn from you.
Therefore, in addition to providing general responses, it is very important to provide specific references to text in the following ways:
- Let your peers know precisely what passages were particularly clear or eloquent, which were confusing (and, if possible, what your confusion is), etc. Look at the organization of, and support for, arguments and counterarguments.
- Do not worry about mechanics of grammar, spelling, etc., at this stage-unless they interfere with your ability to understand what the writer is saying.
Ask the writer for clarification or additional information you need to understand what is written.
- Be sure that the question is real, rather than a value judgment masquerading as a question (e.g., "why did you need so much detail?" which really says "you didn't need so much detail.")
- Share some of your associations to what you read. For example, if someone is making an argument about the advantages of a hand-count of the Florida vote during the 2000 presidential election and an advantage that was not mentioned occurs to you, share it.
- Similarly, share disadvantages of the hand-count that occur to you.
- Remember to identify the strengths in the essay.
- For most of us, our writing is deeply tied up with our very selves. It's difficult to hear criticism of our writing because it feels like criticism of our being. Remember that, both when you give and when you receive feedback.