Friday, February 9, 2018

Flipping Feedback: Revising Peer Review

For several years in middle and secondary, along with the last year or so with freshman composition, I have held onto the belief that someone besides me needed to be the first eyes on a student's paper.  After all, students can read for clarity and expression, saving me the initial roughness that is the rough draft.  I have tried to create a writing environment that organically developed beyond what the peer review worksheets could do. Even though we would discuss feedback protocol and how to respond to each other's writing and what it looked like/sounded like,   

peer review sessions always fell flat.  

I did not realize what needed to change.  But then in the midst of reflecting on the fall semester and its false starts and mediocre ends I read "Teaching Writing as Journey, Not Destination" by Paul Thomas.  In this post, Thomas discusses student feedback from his composition courses.  Notably, his students wanted instructor comments on essays before working with peers.  Because I was in the beginning stages of planning spring's Composition II, the timing was right for rethinking draft due dates, turnaround times, peer feedback, and final papers.  

And now it was time for the first essay.  Instead of students bringing drafts to class for a peer review workshop, students printed their essays to turn in to me, an adjustment to my usual digital submission requirement.  I had thought about how students would access my comments the following week and discuss them with partners.  With the likelihood that some students would not have their laptops, I decided hand-written margin comments on hard copies would provide a tangible anchor for peer conversations. 

The next class, I began with a writing prompt asking students to tell about their previous experiences with peer feedback.  Predictably, they wrote about its ineffectiveness.  As I walked the room, I could see comments such as "waste of time." One student wrote, "My experiences with peer review is not telling them what the teacher can tell them."  

Students only trusted the person who assigned and graded their essays.

Another student commented, "I'm not a fan of peer review because I'm not good at giving feedback when reading an essay."  

Students did not trust others or themselves to be effective readers and responders.

After this opening activity, we discussed what they hoped to gain from the workshop and developed a peer feedback protocol.  Honesty topped the list.  Students desired honest feedback, which demonstrated they really wanted to improve their writing.  They also listed "praise," "offer ideas," "suggestions for revision/corrections," and "ask questions."  One student suggested the acronym TAG: Tell something good, Ask questions, and Give suggestions, which is similar to the Praise-Question-Polish protocol introduced to me in the Louisville Writing Project (an affiliate site of the National Writing Project).

Students read my comments and then reviewed these comments with peers while using the peer feedback protocol.  I heard conversations.  A few students did not turn in rough drafts the previous week; however, they either helped others with feedback or did as this student who said, "Although I didn't have commentary on my paper due to me not submitting my draft, I sat and listened to the others who did receive feedback and got a lot of help from that."  I learned from feedback at the end of class that, for the most part, students' experiences of peer reviews were both helpful and positive.  For the most part.  Yes, we still have a ways to go, but I feel confident that I made the right move for this first essay.  

Thank you to the many mentors out there who constantly help me re-envision my teaching.  

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