Peer review redux

My students hate peer review, at least the way it is traditionally presented.  I don’t like it either. Students are not skilled enough to analyze each other’s papers well, even when the peer review is tightly targeted.

My students love individual conferences.

I combined them into one activity which would be suitable for a class of 20 or less.


1.  Students are divided into groups of three or four. If it is appropriate, they are grouped by area of interest or similarity of subject.

2.  The students email each other their essays and, using Track Changes, each student comments on the essays of the two or three other members of their group. I do the same for each student.

3.  Instead of class, the students attend conferences with the professor. These should be long enough to have a good discussion, say, 20-30 minutes, so more than one class period is needed to accommodate this exercise.

4.  The conference begins with each student giving comments on each other student’s essay. It usually becomes apparent where the weak points are; often the students’ comments are similar to mine, which also strengthens their trust in me as a judge of their essays, and thrills me as well.  NOTE:  It is usually not necessary to even mention this, because students generally don’t want to hurt each other, but if a criticism is too harsh, the commenter should be reminded to say something positive about the piece.

5.  The rest of the conference is spent discussing how to improve the essay, what sources would be useful, and, if there is time, doing some pointed revision.

This exercise proved very popular. It substitutes class time (quantity) for focused attention (quality), and resulted in  a higher comfort level for the students, and better essays.  It is difficult to judge the efficacy of class activities, but this one immediately yielded better work.

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