Why use peer review in my classes?

Peer review, also called peer editing, peer feedback, and formative peer assessment, allows students to provide and receive feedback on an assignment before submitting it to the instructor. When students give and get peer feedback on an assignment in progress, they can remind each other of assignment goals and criteria, get a sense of how readers might respond to their writing when those readers aren’t marking their work, and then make targeted changes to improve their assignments before submitting or presenting them. In this way, peer review takes some of the teaching and feedback load away from the instructor. Along the way, students enhance necessary workplace skills like giving and receiving feedback.

How do I assign peer review?

Peer review can be carried out in-class or out-of-class through paired or small-group guided critiques of a draft or early version of an assignment. You can provide a handout or set of instructions to students that is tailored to the assignment or to the class, like this guide from the Writing and Communication Centre. If you have a large class, software like PEAR is invaluable for managing the logistics of peer review.

How can I make peer review work well?

Giving useful feedback to peers is a skill that can be developed through guidance and practice. If you’ve ever received vague (at best) or cruel (at worst) reviews of your own work, you know: the ability to provide constructive, honest critique isn’t innate. Here are some ideas for teaching students how to provide valuable responses to each other—and to make use of the responses they receive.

Provide guiding questions or tasks to students

Students rarely know where to begin when providing feedback on their peers’ projects and assignments. To help students jump in, specify review tasks or questions you want them to answer about each other’s work.

Direct but open-ended questions work best. Questions that allow reviewers to mirror back to their peers what they’ve read or seen can be highly productive. Questions like, “What is the central claim of this paper, in your opinion?” or “What data did you find most convincing in this report and why?” or “What sections were most interesting to you on this poster and why?” can help students see how readers will understand their work—or not.

Critical questions that lead to actions are ideal. Questions like “What spots were most confusing to you in this report and what would make them clearer?” or “Which aspects of this proposal did you wish you could hear more about?” or “If this were your project, what is one thing you would do to revise it?” direct students in their critical feedback and nudge them to suggest follow-up actions for their peers.

You might also direct students to carry out tasks like generating an outline from their peer’s paper to demonstrate to the author how a reader might understand the organization of the paper or to use the assignment rubric to conduct an artificial evaluation of the assignment.

Finally, students benefit from direct tasks as reviewees as well as reviewers. To that end, guide students to take notes as they discuss their work with their peers or to include a memo when they submit their assignments in which they describe changes they made as a result of the feedback they received from their peers.

Teach students how to review rather than edit

Peer review that is focused on content and structure of an assignment in progress is the most beneficial for students since sentence-level editing is more productive as a final editing step. To teach students how to provide useful review comments rather than editing their peers’ work, using a handout or set of questions to guide the process is essential.

Students also do well with talking about the benefits of peer review and having a voice in the process. In advance of a peer review activity, conduct an activity or discussion with students to generate “dos and don’ts” or best practices so that students take ownership of their peer review. When asked, students will say that they find it frustrating when their peers only edit grammatical errors or say that an assignment is “fine.” Saying these frustrations aloud in advance of a peer review session will help students resist the urge to make these less-helpful responses to their peers and prompt them to provide more useful comments on organization, structure, content, or style.

When possible, conduct peer review sessions in class

One of the benefits of conducting peer reviews as an in-class activity rather than an online assignment is that students learn to see readers and viewers of their work as human beings with authentic responses. When doing peer review in person, surface-level editing becomes less valuable than a meaningful discussion of ideas or organization.

Many instructors implementing peer review assume that blind review is ideal, but recent research on anonymous peer review tells us otherwise. A study on peer review in English language learning courses showed that, although anonymizing the peer review process can help less advanced students give more thorough critiques to their classmates, anonymization makes no difference to the kind of feedback more advanced students provide (Garner and Hadingham, 2019). Since discussing ideas with peers is so useful, consider anonymizing only the first round of peer review each term until students gain more confidence with the process and can carry out meaningful in-person conversations about their work in progress.

Do peer review more than once in a term

Because peer review is a skill that can be developed, carrying out peer review activities three or four times in a twelve-week term is ideal. The first time students conduct peer review, they will require a lot of guidance, and their feedback will be less useful. By their third or fourth round, students are more comfortable and confident and, as a result, they provide richer responses to each other. At the same time, with multiple opportunities to give and receive feedback, students see for themselves the benefits of incorporating advice from their peers on their assignments; rather than seeing peer review as “make-work,” they invest their energy in what they now know is a worthwhile activity.

Resources

Teaching Tips

Other Resources

    Further Reading

    Corbett, S. J., LaFrance, M., & Decker, T. E. (2014). Peer pressure, peer power: Theory and practice in peer review and response for the writing classroom. Southlake, TX: Fountainhead Press.

    Garner, J., & Hadingham, O. (2019). Anonymizing the Peer Response Process: An Effective Way to Increase Proposed Revisions?. Journal of Response to Writing, 5(1). Retrieved from https://journalrw.org/index.php/jrw/article/view/141

    Nilson, L. B. (2003). Improving Student Peer Feedback. College Teaching, 51(1), 34-38. doi:10.1080/87567550309596408

    Topping, K. J. (2009). Peer Assessment. Theory Into Practice, 48(1), 20-27. doi:10.1080/00405840802577569

    Vickerman, P. (2009). Student perspectives on formative peer assessment: An attempt to deepen learning? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(2), 221-230. doi:10.1080/02602930801955986

    teaching tips This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Using Student Peer Review in Any Class. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.