The Many Challenges and Rewards of Peer Review

As a writing instructor, one of my biggest challenges is how to help students learn effective revision strategies. One tried-and-true method in the first year college composition classroom is peer review.

I have to confess that I have a love/hate relationship with peer review. While I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly see the value in having students read and review each other’s writing, I know from experience that this does not always translate into a productive classroom exercise.

The two types of feedback that peer review tends to elicit are “global” and “local.” Global (or holistic) feedback is by far the more productive and helpful of the two, and includes things such as organization and idea development. In contrast to this, local (or surface-level) feedback would include the nuts and bolts of writing such as grammar, punctuation, and word choice.

Students in beginning writing classes tend to focus on the latter at the expense of the former. There are many reasons for this, but namely because it is easier to focus on than global feedback, in two important ways: first, it is easier to identify these types of errors, but secondly, it is less threatening to offer that type of surface-level feedback. However, what ends up happening is that students who have only received this type of surface-level feedback are left feeling that if they just address these local concerns, then their papers are done and do not require any further revision work (my personal pet peeve is the ubiquitous comment that is made in nearly every group: “It’s great, I wouldn’t change a thing!”).

This week I looked at numerous articles in the journal Computers and Composition, but ultimately selected the following to focus on: “Comparison of Online and Face-to-Face Peer Review of Writing.”

This article questions whether the benefits of face-to-face (f2f) synchronous peer review translate into asynchronous online peer review. The two research questions that the authors investigate are: 1) “Do the benefits of using f2f peer writing groups, as identified in the research literature, also accrue to online peer response groups?” and 2) “What are the particular strengths and limitations of each context of response, f2f and online?”(91). Ultimately, there were no clear-cut answers to these questions; however, as the authors conclude that both venues offer advantages and disadvantages.

For example, the f2f feedback gave students the opportunity to practice giving oral feedback and helped students to develop a greater sense of community. However, the online feedback gave students more opportunities for writing, more time to read through each other’s drafts, and the ability to offer more deliberate feedback. Also, it is worth noting that instructors are able to see (and evaluate) the feedback that students give each other when given online.

In terms of disadvantages to each, the authors point out that the online environment lacks the immediate of a f2f one. Also, it can “be a barrier for students who have reservations about their writing skills or their ability to effectively communicate solely online”(91). Lastly, technical challenges may arise when participating in online feedback, which can be a source of frustration for students.

One strength of this article was its very thorough literature review, both in the general area of composition theory, but more importantly on the specific topic of f2f and online peer writing groups. However, the authors based their research on a small group of K-12 teachers who were participating in an intensive, one-month graduate level course in the teaching of writing (92). It would be interesting to apply this analysis to students in a first-year composition classroom. (603)

Work Cited:

Pritchard, Ruie Jane, and Donna Morrow. “Comparison of Online and Face-to-Face Peer Review of Writing.” Computers and Composition, vol. 46, 2017, pp. 87–103, doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2017.09.006.

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