Distributed Peer Review

A student peering at the work of another student


Stephanie Rosen

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What is the purpose of peer review? Whom is it meant to benefit? 

Over my years of teaching Rhetoric and Writing, I have learned through repeated student feedback that peer review (student-generated feedback on student writing) doesn’t work. My students tell me their peers are “too nice” or “too vague” and that they prefer “more teacher feedback” since I’m the one “giving them a grade.” In the past I’ve tried to fight this trend with highly specific and focused peer review instructions, to improve the quality of student-generated feedback  But lately I’ve shifted my focus from the peer review benefits for the “reviewee” to the benefits for the “reviewer.” I’ve cut out the feedback stage of peer review for one major assignment because I’ve realized that the greatest benefit of peer review can actually be exposure to other student writing and the recognition—and incorporation—of successful writing strategies.

I have come to this realization by encouraging public writing on a class blog. In my Rhetoric of Health class, we use a class blog as the repository for most major writing assignments, including a research summary, a rhetorical analysis, and a persuasive essay. By the time we get to our second unit and our second assignment—the rhetorical analysis—the blog already has an archive of material, and students are already accustomed to posting on and following it. (See my Distributed Peer Review lesson plan for more information.) When they write their rhetorical analyses, rather than trade papers with one partner, students post their papers (as blog posts) for all to see. Furthermore, students have staggered due dates for these blog posts, so most students get the chance to read several student examples of the assignment before they even begin their own. As students read each others’ posts in order to leave required comments, they begin to notice how their peers have handled the assignment and which strategies are more successful. To encourage this kind of recognition, we spend some time in class examining those different strategies.

For example, one day we took a sample of blog posts to examine different types of introductions. The five posts due that day had used three different kinds of introductions: some students had offered an anecdote, some had provided background information, some had introduced a problem. We used these student examples to begin a discussion of the advantages and uses of each type of introduction. For instance, we noted that an introduction with a personal anecdote can quickly establish the writer’s ethos as someone close to, and passionate about, the issue at hand.  We then used this conversation as a spring board to consider other types of introductions, and their respective advantages and uses. And this in-class discussion reinforced what most of the students had already realized: that they could learn from each other’s writing.

As the unit progressed, I saw student writing consistently improve, due to simple exposure to many examples and from active experimentation with strategies that students saw working in their peers’ work. One obvious disadvantage of this plan is that some students will have the benefit of reading many student examples before they write their rhetorical analysis, while some will see few or none. But this disadvantage could be mitigated by giving the stronger writer earlier due dates or, as I did, giving all students the option to revise their work at any time during the unit. This organic, distributed peer review resulted in improved writing across my entire class. And no one told me that peer review “wasn’t working” or that their peers’ feedback “wasn’t helpful.” They weren’t getting feedback; they were generating it and applying it to their own writing.


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All materials posted to this site are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. We invite you to use and remix these materials, but please give credit where credit is due. In addition, we encourage you to comment on your experiments with and adaptations of these plans so that others may benefit from your experiences.


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