Students in my writing classes spend a lot of time providing feedback to each other, because I am a firm believer in feedback loops to support the writing process. Sometimes that feedback is provided in pairs or small groups as student discuss their ideas and other times that feedback is focused on a specific aspect of our current works-in-progress, such as the claim or research question. However, four times each semester my students take on the task of providing an intensive peer review of a complete (if rough) essay for three of their classmates and that’s when things get real. Students often bring some baggage to this experience. I know that I am the survivor of some rough peer review myself. Also, many students have been taught bad habits or developed lazy habits due to the lack of guidance or structure. Here are my three tips for supporting peer review to avoid the common pitfalls that hinder the success of writing workshop.
Trust is an essential part of the writing workshop and the only way to build trust is to build community. Writers who know each other provide more targeted feedback and writers who know each other receive that feedback with more acceptance. Writers in a community are invested in supporting each other and know that they can rely on their community to help them work through challenges. Community members lift each other up and inspire each other.
The standards used to assess writing in my classes are always created in collaboration with my students. As part of our process we examine the goals of the assignment including my goal (my description of the assignment on the syllabus) and the student learner outcomes developed by my department and our institution. Part of this examination includes reflection and discussion about issues such as conventions and effective writing as well as what the final deliverable should look like. We work together to determine a list of standards that will be used to evaluate the deliverable in question. These standards help the writer and serve as an useful starting point for peer review as the standards give reviewers questions to answer and evidence to seek.
The most important part of helping students provide better feedback for their peers is to create models for them to follow. There are three strategies that I like to employ for feedback. First is simply the author’s agenda. This is a simple statement of the author’s primary challenges and goals so the reader can read with those in mind. I also encourage my writers to consider where they are emotionally as well. In the National Writing Project we are taught to consider whether we are ready for our work to be blessed, addressed, or pressed. Blessing means that you are not yet ready for criticism just a response to what is working or interesting about the piece. Addressing focuses on one specific issue or challenge that you want to address. Pressing means that you are ready (even eager) for all the feedback your reader has to offer. Another NWP strategy I like to employ is Praise-Question-Polish (or PQP). This is often a comfortable formula for readers to follow at the beginning of the semester when our community is not fully gelled and everyone is still a little uncertain about this writing workshop thing we are doing. Readers pick out something to praise that they feel is working particularly well then ask questions about things they don’t understand and finish up with some tips to polish the piece. This is often the strategy I employ with my own feedback so they can see how it works.
How do you support peer review and feedback loops in your writing classroom?
Artwork by Pixabay