Peer Review is perhaps one of the most challenging methods of teaching in the English as a Second Language writing classroom; on one hand, when it goes well, the benefits of it students are tremendous and impactful.
But more often than not, students report that they do not get much out of the experience. In order to make the peer feedback process meaningful for students, it’s important to take the time to make the purpose of peer review to students. It’s also helpful to vary the format of peer review in order to help students get the most out of the experience.
Organize Peer Feedback in an Expert Way
Start with a Fun Skit
Students often have a preconceived notion of peer review that it is simply a chance for them to get feedback on how to make their writing better. While this certainly one benefit of this kind of activity, arguably, the real benefit may lie in helping someone else to improve their work. Students should have the opportunity to view peer review this way in order to get the most out of it. One way to help them to do this is to have students participate in a fun skit that models appropriate and inappropriate peer review contribution. With a short teacher-created dialogue script and a few volunteers from among the students, the class can quickly have a new perception of that what this activity is all about. Creating a humorous skit with characters that exhibit exaggerated tendencies is a must: for example, a student in one role can simply say “looks good!” every so often. Another can be grammar-obsessed, and another still can simply shrug and say “I don’t know”. One character in the dialogue should model productive peer review contribution, asking questions and making comments on content and organization. A discussion afterwards will help students to digest what they have seen.
Assign Students to Groups
We as teachers often approach peer review as an activity to be done in pairs. While more mature and thoughtful students can benefit from this model, a slightly larger group might work well for those learners who are still getting comfortable with the concept. There is “borrowed benefit” for students working in peer review groups of three or four, in that the participants can learn from hearing their classmates comment on essays, and writers can get a range of feedback from different readers. In other words, making peer review a group activity (rather than one done with partners) can allow for an increase in the exchange of ideas.
Have Students Listen and Take Notes
One specific way to design a group peer review is to have the writer whose paper is being discussed simply listen to her classmates while they have a discussion about the essay. Not only is this also an effective exercise for increasing listening skills, it also encourages the writer to absorb the feedback without becoming defensive about the writing and responding too quickly. Students should be encouraged to take notes during a peer review like this so that they can revisit them later while revising the piece of writing.
Use Recorded Feedback
Many ESL students come from highly-oral cultures. Because peer review is a task typically focused on writing, we often ask students to provide feedback in writing. This is certainly valuable, but it may help students to better communicate their feedback if they have the opportunity to do so orally, either face-to-face or by using a software program that allows them to record comments. With a recording, students have added benefit of being able to listen again, referring back to the feedback just as they might with written notes.
Anonymous Peer Review
Some learners are uncomfortable with the idea of others seeing their writing, and other students cringe at the thought of having to comment on what one of their peers has written. For groups of students who are especially anxious about the process, anonymous peer review can eliminate some of the discomfort associated with the task. Creating a system for students to comment on work anonymously can create more work for the instructor, but it’s worth it for the increased confidence it can provide to students as they engage in meaningful peer review.
Peer Review has the potential to be a valuable experience for English as a Second Language writing students, but it’s important to execute it carefully to ensure that its full value is realized.
With a little preparation and enough variety, students will hopefully come to appreciate the process.