Archive for November, 2011

Revising Peer Review

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Working on making peer review day better has been one of my goals this semester. This has also been a topic of discussion on Twitter recently, so I thought I’d contribute. I’ve heard many discussions about peer review and listened to what other people do for their peer review and have taken some steps to improve what I do through these discussions. Some things I’m planning on implementing during Spring semester are the following:

  • Creating an Introduction to Peer Review document. Because of teaching online each semester, I luckily have a lot of resources that I could use to create a better understanding of what peer review is, why we do it, and how it works. I already have a class wide peer review practice session, but I’ve noticed that though this works in some ways, it doesn’t work in all the ways I’d like it to work. (example: students still struggle with “what to talk about.”) And though I’ve always fallen back on “it isn’t different from what you did in 120” this semester I’ve learned that many of these students “tested out” of 120 and furthermore never did the portfolio for 120 because of the 2009 flood. So in some ways, they are newbies to this style of writing class.
  • Tackling the “what do we talk about?” demon. I’ve always worked closely with student groups during their first couple peer reviews, mostly to comment on their commenting. (example: I’ll tell them to expand on a comment by giving specific details or to actually give suggestions on how to fix something besides just saying “this needs to be fixed.” I’d ask them about the why and how.) For spring, I am thinking of creating a document of what basically are “things to talk about in peer discussion” though under a better title. ­čÖé This would just be a list of writing errors/problems to look for along with proper development, analysis, and the already very obvious “does this draft correspond to the assignment?” I also had a colleague give me a document with “20 common writing errors” of which I will use to pick 10 common writing errors and hand that out to students to use in peer review.
  • Make groups smaller Usually, I set students up into groups of 4-5, and this seems to work well. But this semester students have complained that the groups are too large and its hard to respond to everyone’s paper because of this. One student suggested partnering up with someone, but I feel that could really backfire. So next semester I’ll cut groups down to 3-4 people. (Though this just might be the students this semester, too. I’ve never had complaints about the number of students in their peer groups before. But there is a first time for everything.)
Those goals are all well and good, but I also implemented new or other ideas this semester, with mostly good results, I think. (Unless students were lying to me during conferences earlier this semester. Many people during conferences told me why they like or don’t like peer review. There were about 4 who felt that peer review wasn’t great, and it was mostly because they would rather not do a rough draft at all.) So here are some things I did differently this semester:
  • I placed students into groups with those of the same, or very similar, major. This has been a total win/win for everyone it seems since these students have taken the same classes and are all working on similar projects.
  • The above, however, didn’t always work perfectly and at first I was worried about how students might react. Luckily, many of them told me that they like the “different perspective” and feel that the “outside major” does bring in some of the best questions for discussion. So again, still win/win.
  • I cut back how many points students are given for peer review. I thought this was fair, since I’m playing around with it a lot this semester.
  • I’ve simply worked more closely with peer groups this time. Usually, I let students kind of do this on their own independently, but this semester I’ve kept better tabs on how groups work together, helped them give better comments to their fellow reviewers, and made sure they were all gaining something from peer review, even if they don’t like the whole peer review process. (Some don’t, those little rebels.;) ) I’ve always had students complete a sort of questionnaire at the end of every peer review, and I’ve kept that up, but I’ve also worked with them more pre-review, during review, and post-review, which I think has paid off and hopefully not felt suffocating in any way.
Rough drafts. That is another thing I’ve been thinking about. I don’t like not┬áhaving rough drafts required for major assignments. I’ve noticed that when I require rough drafts, student assignments generally are better in the end than when I don’t require rough drafts. (Seems obvious, right? There is less procrastination, less “let’s write this essay the night before” and the student gets more feedback.) And the students who would prefer to not write rough drafts are strikingly few; most like the opportunity to turn in a rough draft and get feedback. As a graduate instructor, I am tempted to not have rough drafts, but I keep doing it because of how it benefits student writing and performance. Yes, it is more work for me, but I shouldn’t try to cut down my work load at their expense. And I always plan for enough time for me to go through those drafts, send them back, and get a final draft. But with all this work on peer review, and the improvements of it, it is still very tempting. Still, I don’t think I would get rid of rough drafts. Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t.
One thing I’ve learned in working on improving peer review is that you will always have resistant students, no matter how wonderful or fun or studly you are as a teacher and no matter how much they enjoy your class. Some students just really dislike group work. (I’ve also increased by use of group work, to mainly positive results, but of course not everyone enjoys group work–I have to admit I am not too excited about group work as a student either, so I understand where they are coming from and I empathize with them, which maybe I shouldn’t do.) And honestly, I don’t mind the resistant students, though I know a lot of people complain about them, even me. But I like the combative nature they have and I like that they don’t just accept something because it is a “standard approach in teaching” or is “accepted in many writing classes.” I think people like them have the potential to be strong leaders and smart people who can make the world better. Though after writing that I realize how idealistic that sounds. Maybe I’m just being far too hopeful.