Peer review becomes more common at the post-secondary level and is something that people experience in different forms throughout their career. Working with students to give and receive constructive feedback can set a foundation they’ll build upon throughout their studies and working life. Why add peer review to your classroom? It can also be a great way to develop your students’ critical skills while helping them to engage actively with the course materials.

However, without setting the right tone and expectations, teachers report back with lackluster results after having students give feedback on each others’ work. There’s not a lot that can be done with “that was good,” after all! Conversely, relentlessly tearing down a classmate’s work isn’t productive, either.

It’s also a good idea to set a couple of ground rules: being accurate is important, but so is being respectful of other students’ feelings.

Here are a couple of strategies that will help keep feedback productive, and ensure students see the feedback from each other as having a similar value to traditional assessment:

1. Cultivate a welcoming environment

Assessing someone else’s work can be nerve-wracking, so it can be helpful to students to have a couple of assignments or units graded by the teacher first. This will give them a framework, and an idea of which areas are most important to focus on. It’s also a good idea to set a couple of ground rules: being accurate is important, but so is being respectful of other students’ feelings.

2. Encourage students’ voices

Consider working with your students to create the peer assessment checklist or evaluation form. Whether they suggest areas for evaluation or vote on questions to answer as evaluators, students will feel more engaged in the process if they’ve helped to shape it. Some of the questions or subjects suggested might prove challenging to other classmates. While this dissent can take time to work through, it can also lead to discussions on viewing history (or English, or Biology) through a different lens than one’s own – vital to a generation that is growing up with filter bubbles.

Depending on the class, consider splitting a project’s final grade between a “student grade” and a “teacher grade,” so the students’ feedback carries weight. To prevent a best-friend auto-A – or bitter-rival-F – have multiple students assess each work, or where possible, share assignments with the names redacted. Alternately, schedule the student review before the final drafts are submitted, so students can immediately use the feedback to strengthen their project’s ultimate form.

3. Promote assessment from a reader’s perspective

While some tasks students perform during peer review are descriptive (like identifying a topic sentence or assessing the “evaluation” stage of a science fair experiment) and others are evaluative (like noting paragraphs or themes that need more development), student reviews should be encouraged to express response over absolute judgment. Less “this was bad” and more “when you wrote (THIS), I felt (THAT) because (REASON).” This formula encourages a more thoughtful response from reviewers and may prompt more honest answers.

With older students, use the responses they made to review and strengthen their own work. Did anything they reviewed make them look at their own findings differently? What inspired them about looking at the other stories or studies? They might surprise themselves – and you – with what they have to say.

What are some of the strategies that have worked for you in implementing peer review in your classroom?

Blog contributed by Taryn Graham

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