Peer Review

Though the final draft of the analytical paragraph is the culmination of over two weeks of close study, drafting, and revising, the peer review session is also a critical step in demonstrating mastery of the structure and thinking involved in an analytical task.

I know that some of what I reference will require a posting on what, exactly, the “11 sentence analytical paragraph” looks like in my classroom. I just collected and graded this year’s first batch, so I’ll attempt to scan and post some those as well.

With a carefully designed peer review session, students can critique another’s writing, using the skills learned during the past weeks’ lessons.

When we must analyze another’s work, stepping away from our own, we are given a chance to come up for air. We are relieved of the burden of attempting to design our own argument. We can examine another’s design, looking for strengths and flaws. And, in turn, look at our own design anew,

From one student, responding to my request for feedback on the effectiveness of the peer review session-“I think this specific peer review strategy was very helpful because I got very good feedback and its crystal clear what I can/should change in my piece.” [I have not corrected spelling errors and I have italicized what the student underlined.”

Several things can happen. One, the student reviewer will  be able to see ready flaws, pointing out what the writer may have lost in the challenge of crafting an eleven sentence  analytical paragraph.  For some students, they prove to be better editors than they are writers.

My students are instructed to turn in a “best draft.” The implications of a rough draft is exactly that-rough; as in a “rough idea”, “rough on someone” or “rough edges.” None of these have a positive connotation.

The first thing I do is collect the drafts.  During earlier “bull sessions,” I let student work with whomever they want.  I give them a set time and objective and keep an eye on their progress. Needless to say, some friends are quickly encouraged, by me, to find other people with whom to work.

From the mouth of babes:

Another student on the effectiveness of peer review-“While doing this peer review editing, I like it better than just editing with your friends. I like this better because your open to new papers and get a variety-with your friends, you just get the same paper every time, and you can go off task easily.” Again, I have not edited any errors.

I communicate to my students the seriousness of this activity. Their classmates are relying on them to help make their drafts exhibit a high level of mastery.

In past years, when I  had more energy, I would take all drafts, provide individualized feedback, return to my students, and then grade. Even with the multiple checklists and other cheat sheets I used, I found myself giving at least 5 to 10 hours per task assigned; With 90 students, I would spend 3-5 minutes per first draft, writing comments, completing checklists that would offer specific suggestions. Then I would conference with all students who wished for one. Out of 90 students, typically, 25-30 would meet with me before school or during lunch.  These conferences would take anywhere from 2 minutes to 10. Then I would grade final drafts, often allowing for rewrites. All the while, we would be starting other assignments and other writing tasks.

In another post, I’ll talk about how I would first collect a pretest where students would write an analytical paragraph in the first day or two of class, using a reading passage that is either on or below grade level, depending on whether I was doing this with an advanced English 8 class or a co-taught, inclusion class. Then I would create a Word table; I would then chart every student’s strengths and weaknesses as I examined each pretest; I would then  tailor my feedback on their drafts to their individual needs. Effective but ultimately too much work for me. It was unsustainable.

So back to peer review. I keep wandering off topic…I have pages in  Word filed with these wanderings. As I tell my students, “my train of thought often goes off the rails, sometimes crashing and burning at the bottom of a rock strewn ravine.” It can lead to some very humorous moments in class.

Before I actually get into what the peer review looks like, I want to again emphasize that my writing instruction is built on teaching a specific skill, such as an effective topic sentence;  practicing it/writing it, repeating the skill, analyzing exemplars, and revising. There is not always a set order in these steps. They are repeated, reviewed, assessed as students need. The common denominator is that all students are provided the means to learn a specific writing skill and learn it well.  More on that later.

So, finally, the specifics of peer review:

The writing prompt is “How does the author develop a character in a short story and what is the purpose of the character in the larger context  of the story.”

I’m looking for students to examine the character’s impact on another character, the mood, the tone, the conflict, the theme.

This year, the writers are advanced English 8 students. They have all demonstrated above level reading scores on multiple measures. This is their first writing class. 6th and 7th grade are traditional English classes.

All reviewers write their names underneath their comments.

Lets try a list format:

1.) This will all take place in a 50 minute class period. Students have been anticipating this day. They know that this is the last chance to have the entirety of their argument examined. The final draft is due two days from this class. This gives some time for the writer to talk with the peer reviewer or meet with me.

2.) After collecting, all drafts, I outline the day’s lesson, The objectives are clearly stated and posted: “By the end of class, all students will analyze the effectiveness of a specific element of an analytical argument.”  and “Students will apply this feedback to the revision of their own argument.”

3.) Students are instructed to put the writer’s name at the top of a piece of lined paper as I distribute, mostly randomly, the drafts. I say mostly randomly because I do place in the hands of my most focused thinkers and best writers, the papers that could use the most feedback and guidance. I know this because of our prior writing sessions.

4.) Task One: Read the entire argument of the paper in front of you. This takes the average student 4-5 minutes. Students are then told to write down, on the lined paper, the writer’s subject and the argument. For example, one entire topic sentence is ” In Rules of the Game, by Amy Tan, the mother is characterized as harsh and controlling through her interactions with her daughter, Waverly, which in turn creates fighting and other conflicts between them in the story.” The reviewer would write down as the subject: “mother” and for argument “the mother…creates fighting and other conflicts between them in the story.” This affirms for the original writer that the argument is clear to a reader; this allows the reviewer a chance to look at another argument, perhaps generating new ideas on how to communicate clearly or receive affirmation that his argument is clear.

5.)  Task Two:  The papers are recollected. Directions: Read the entire argument. Pick one “chunk”-[this refers to one piece of text support and the  two sentences of interpretation that explains how the text support supports the topic sentence, the argument.] Does the text support relate to the topic sentence? How so, explain briefly. Does the interpretation explain how/why the text support supports the topic sentence?   An example, from the same paper above: “For example, when the mother and young Waverly are walking through the market, Waverly starts crying for a sweet, causing the mother to yell at her to “bite her tongue,” even though the child is young (1). This cruel interaction sets the tone for the span of their tense relationship as the mother trains and manipulates her to become extremely obedient as she ages.” The peer reviewer would communicate (and write down on the same paper as  reviewer two such things as “your text support clearly supports the topic sentence; however, you only provide one interpretative sentence. Can you say more?”

Clearly, more could be written to help the writer; however, this  peer reviewer reminds the writer to go further with their thinking.

6.) Collect the papers and distribute again. Task Three:  Directions: Read the entire argument. What are two successes of this paper? What is one thing that you, as a reader, need to better understand either this argument?

7.) Lastly. This can get chaotic, but it works. The last peer reviewer returns the paper to the writer. The writer than takes the time to look over the comments; if needed, she is then able to have a conversation with one or more of the reviewers. Inherent in this process is the writer’s reflection on her work and the formulation of next steps. I didn’t have too, but there may be a need for the peer reviewers and the writers to meet the next day.  We did not need to do this year.

A few more students comments about the effectiveness of this session:

“I know what I need to change to get a good grade on it, like maybe alter my transitions between sentences.” [again, I did not alter the student’s comments.]

“This peer review session was very effective because I now know how to make my topic sentence and I can see what people think of my writing. Other’s comments made me understand why the flow of my paper wasn’t very good.”  [I did not alter the student’s comments.]

” This peer review helped me know not just what the teacher thought’s and mine are, but other classmates that are doing the same thing as me. I like doing these because I get feedback and as I give feedback, I learn something or notice something about my own paper. Very effective.” [ I did not alter the student’s comments.]

Sometime soon, I’ll scan and post a best draft, a peer review paper or two, and a final draft.

So, I hope this is a pretty good explanation of why and how I conduct a peer review session. I may come back to this as I fill in the gaps of how I teach the analytical paper.

If you stumble upon this blog, comments and feedback most welcome.



One thought on “Peer Review”

  1. Adam,
    Good explanation of the peer review process. Wish i could find the 11 sentence paragraph format. (You scanned these for me years ago so I could use them with my HS students.) It might be helpful to include this up front along with a brief list of the peer review steps for those of us with ADD or for copying.


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