Grading the Peer Review Workshop

Monday, November 26th, 2012

It is nearing the end of our ridiculously long 17-week semester at my university and so things are starting to wrap up for my English 358 Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class. They have written a professional narrative, completed a job packet, learned how to write a professional email, composed a literary analysis for non-literature majors, wrote a proposal, and completed a final project that they created from a previous assignment in a class from their major (or working on finishing that last project up). Now all that really remains is the finishing up and grading with the latter primarily being up to me, right? More or less, yes.

I do give students the opportunity to grade themselves, however. Peer Review is one of those areas where they do get a chance to grade themselves and those in their peer review group. I do this because I handle Peer Review in a relatively hands off way, especially as the semester goes on. When they first start out with peer review, I usually go around to each group and help them along by giving them prompts, questions, and other topics regarding writing to consider in the group discussions. I do this during the second peer review, but it is less in-depth than the first time. After that, I have noticed they kind of want me to leave them alone, unless they are having problems or have questions or want my feedback about something.

While I think peer review goes well for the most part since I do get good feedback about it from students, there remains the problem of grading it. I think students should always get points for something like this since they do put a fair amount of time into it. But since I treat this activity as fairly hands off, I don’t feel I am the one who can adequately assess their work without their input. So to gain their input I could do a number of things, some of which I have done before:

  • Grade them during each individual peer review. Each peer review would earn them, let’s say, 10 points or more. After each peer review, I would add up the points and grade them based on that. I have done this before and it works pretty well. The problem I saw with it is that students had little input and so I didn’t always notice who was sending their drafts on time and who wasn’t and this was even with the freewrite being a part of it. And I value grading as being as fair and thoughtful as possible and I didn’t feel it was happening as well as it could be here.
  • Have each student compose a memo about how peer review went overall and writing about the work they did for it. This would indirectly articulate a grade that I could give them. I have never done this since I do assign a lot of smaller writing assignments at the end (reflections, cover letters, memos) and had trouble imagining an extra piece of writing. Plus, as a graduate student, I have to think carefully about the work I can do at the end of the semester.
  • I have used conferences as a way to grade peer review. Each group would meet with me, talk about what went well, what didn’t, and everyone would be graded on this feedback. Usually people ended up with similar grades unless their participation was low.
  • Have them fill out a rubric for each peer review group member, including themselves, and give each person, along with themselves, a grade based upon the entire semester’s work.

The final bullet point is how I chose to grade them this time for peer review, which I also used last semester. With the rubric, I give them two criteria they can use to grade each other, though they can also as a group create their own, though most just go with what I have given them since it is pretty standard for peer review work. They then get into their groups and either agree with this criteria, or create new criteria, and then take the rubric worksheets home to grade each other individually. Within each criteria, my instructions tell me to give me some reason for a certain grade.  That is the idea, anyway.

While this obviously isn’t a perfect system, some things work well. The students do a good job at identifying what they value in their peer review group for grading each other, especially after I ask them to imagine the worst peer review situation and what could happen there. They also are relatively honest about their own participation in group work, which I found odd at first, but now appreciate because it makes grading peer review way easier.

A problem with this method is that they tend to “fluff” the grades of their peers a little bit. The good news is that the person whose grade is being “fluffed” is usually far more honest about the work he or she did than their peers. I imagine the fluffing occurs because they just don’t want someone to be mad at them or something. And when grading, I can usually pay more attention to the grade that person gave themselves than what anyone else from the group said. Either way, what i have noticed here is interesting because it was pretty much the opposite of what I was anticipating.

Seeing this one problem always makes me want to go back to the memo style of peer review grading. Problem is at the end of the semester the last thing I want to do is assign another piece of writing. Plus, with the new final project I created for the class, they already have three smaller assignments to write, which include a cover letter, a reflection and a professional email.

My question at the end is this: how do you grade peer review? What works about it? What doesn’t? I recognize there are problems with my method for grading this, so I am really curious as to what others do.

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One comment on “Grading the Peer Review Workshop

  1. thomtammaro says:

    Thoughtful, as usual, JJ. I’ll take my cue from this: “While this obviously isn’t a perfect system….”

    What is a perfect system? There’s probably none. I like that you are trying out a variety of approaches, then determining which seems to work best for your purposes. Trial and error. You’re learning, too. Each class you teach is a rough draft for the next class you teach. This isn’t a science. It’s an art—or at least a craft. Putting numbers on it doesn’t make it scientific. If your ultimate goal is to make your students take ownership of their own writing as well as to help each other become better writers, then I think you are doing that. This happens over time, not in one exercise (and maybe it happens after they leave your classroom, too). It is a habit (or habits) of writing you are trying to cultivate, right? Reinforce the habit you are having them practice. Maybe this could be one of their non-graded writing assignments? Not every writing activity has to be be graded, right? Perhaps they get a checkmark in your grade book, rather than a letter grade or points, for completing the assignment?

    I like the idea of the self-reflective critique (where they tell you how they applied or did not apply the peer responses in their final drafts); this may be an important exercise for them, allowing them to understand that *they* are in charge of making the ultimate choices for their writing (how wonderful for them to consider and then either reject or apply a peer criticism!). This really emphasizes the idea of ownership to them, as not every peer criticism has to be incorporated into their essay (in fact, it’s possible that some peer suggestions/responses should *not* be incorporated into their essay because it may not even be a good or accurate one). But the writer/author is the one deciding. Not a peer responder. Not you. So maybe rewarding their participation in the process (and showing them and then allowing the to participate in good writerly habits) is more important here than accurately trying to determine how many points to award (subjective and arbitrary, really). That is the *lesson* here, I think.

    I think I may be ramblin’ on here, so I better stop. But you’re right, JJ: it’s not a perfect system, and there may not be one. But for sure you are on the right track getting them to engage in these good writerly habits—that seems to be the success of your pedagogy here. And I think you are succeeding, no mater what is or isn’t “working.” Good work, JJ.

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