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Peer Review in the Classroom

Believe it or not, we are starting the fifth week of the semester. As paper deadlines approach, it is a good time to plan activities that help students improve their writing. One option is to hold a peer review session in class.  This is a great opportunity for students to improve their written assignments while also giving constructive feedback. In order to make the most out of this in class activity, it is important to carefully plan out the peer review ahead of time.

Tips for peer review in the classroom

  • Choose an appropriate writing assignment and timeframe. Groups of three tend to work well so that students get feedback from two of their peers. If you would like the students to finish the peer review in class, it is best if the writing assignment is on the shorter side (3 to 5 pages).   Longer assignments can be used as well, but it is likely that the students will need to finish the review outside of class. The peer review should be done at a time when the students still have ample time to edit their papers based on the feedback they receive from the peer review. Doing the peer review too close to the final deadline can discourage students from making major changes to their papers.
  • Set clear guidelines. It is helpful to give specific instructions for the peer review. You may want to model a peer review session in class to demonstrate how to review a paper in a constructive way. It is also a good idea to handout a detailed rubric to guide the students along the peer review process. 
  • Communicate the purpose of the peer review session.  In The College Fear Factor: How Students and Professors Misunderstand One Another, Rebecca Cox interviews students in a community college composition class. Many students were not eager to participate in an in class peer review session. After conducting interviews, Dr. Cox concludes that, “the fear of exposing their inadequacies to their peers played a role in some students’ reluctance to participate.” This could also be a relevant concern for students at Notre Dame. To circumvent this potential issue, clearly explain that the purpose of the peer review is to use feedback to improve their written assignments, and explain the importance of using constructive feedback. Setting clear guidelines in terms of how to give specific feedback with the goal of helping the writer will also help to create a safe environment.
  • Decide how to grade the session. When the students participated in an ungraded peer review session, “students were able to treat the peer review as an optional activity without fear that their lack of participation would detract from their final grades.” As a result, they placed little value in the activity. Dr. Cox notes that students often interpret grading policies to signal what is important in the course.  If you decide to assign a grade for the peer review session, the Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis suggests the following grading rubric:

                             Brought 2 copies of paper to class: 5 pts
                             Provided peers with specific, constructive written feedback: 0-5 pts
                             Participated actively in discussion of each paper: 0-5 pts
                             Wrote specific response to peers’ feedback: 0-5 pts
                             Total score for each peer-review session: 0-20 pts.



Cox, Rebecca D. “College Teaching.” The College Fear Factor: How Students and Professors Misunderstand One Another. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2009. 92-113.

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