Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Peer review match-ups

I posted a comment in response to Bardiac's post on end-of-semester writing, and I thought it deserved its own post. My question -- how do you match up students for peer review? In my writing class this semester, I started out pairing them randomly (just trying to make sure that they weren't matched with the same people); for the final paper of the semester, I tried to pair weaker students with stronger ones, figuring that the better writers would serve as good models. Of course, having been one of the better students in my own first-year writing class, I realize that they don't gain as much from those peer reviews - they're fine teaching opportunities, and they allow students to more consciously think about what they're doing right in their own writing, but their actual essays don't improve as much.

So for next semester, I'm considering mixing it up a bit, perhaps even putting students in groups of three for their longer essays. What have your experiences been with different peer review match-ups?

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Bardiac said...

It's a great question, Kermit. I'm sorry I haven't responded before, but life is busy, and I hate grading.

What I do depends on the course, mostly. For my first year writing course, where we'll peer edit five papers over the semester, and where I'll read and grade peer editing responses, here's what I do:

Paper #1 - totally random

Paper #2 - based on peer editing grades, I cluster students into three broad groups: the strongest peer editors, the weakest, and most people in the middle. I try to set up each group of three with one from each group.

My thinking is that most first year writing peer editing is about effort more than writing ability. People who put in the effort tend to do a good job. People who don't, don't.

By balancing the groups, I hope that the weakest peer editors will learn from the strongest, and that the strongest will get at least some help from the moderates. I also try to reward the strongest peer editors by praising their work.

I DO consider writiing strengths secondarily.

Paper #3 - New groups (there's good reason to use the same groups, but this works for me). I try to balance by peer editing on paper #2.

Paper #4 - They choose groups. Mostly they choose friends.

Paper #5 - I check the peer editing grades, looking especially for people who've consistently done well or improved, and then I create a list and put the people pretty much straight from the list. The result is that people who've consistently done a good job peer editing are with others who've done similarly well. And people who haven't (usually in my opinion because they aren't putting forth enough effort) are with folks who've done the same.

My goals are to reward the hardest working peer editors with really great peer editors for the most important paper.

For any of these papers, I also meet with anyone who wants to talk about papers, and they can freely revise the first three papers after my grade/response.

Sorry to have taken over your comment area! I hope that helps, and I'm interested to see what you think about the whole thing.

(I tend to group the strongest students together in the grad class, balancing that by theoretical and topical interest. The student who's doing serious theoretical thinking needs to get feedback from people who care about theory, and so forth.)

Bardiac said...

OMG, I JUST got the pun on "log." I feel so stupid!

kermitthefrog said...

That's quite helpful, Bardiac! Take over the comments any time with notes like these.

One important thing I've been planning to change from this semester to next is that this semester, my students started out doing mostly oral peer reviews, in class. I realized halfway through that it was just becoming a time-suck, and that I wasn't able to give good feedback on those peer reviews, and switched to a written format in which they responded to a series of questions. I think that worked much better, and would be much more condusive to grouping by peer review skill.

And honestly, I've been worrying all along whether ANYONE would get the pun on "log"! I'm sure I could find some movie still of Kermie sitting on his log playing the guitar, to make it more clear... perhaps that will be the next blog project.

Bardiac said...

I hate grading peer editing responses, but it makes it more likely that more students will take the assignment seriously and LEARN something, and it helps me put people in groups in ways I think are helpful.

I have them make two copies of their written response. The day after peer editing, they bring both copies to class, and hand them both to their peer.

The peer then reads one, underlining the things that seem most helpful and important. Then on that same piece of paper, the peer writes a response about what's most helpful and what s/he suggests to be more helpful in the future. The peer then hands that piece of paper to me. I grade that and return it to the editor.

The peer keeps the other response, marks the helpful stuff, and uses that to work on his/her revision.

It's not perfect, but it works pretty well. The peer editor gets feedback from his/her peer and from me. The grades are on a 1-10 scale, and collectively count for a small percentage of the grade (10-15%, usually).

Bev said...

In the past, I have generally assigned peer-review groups randomly; however, this semester's composition class posed a challenge because one-third of the students were ESL students from China. I often have Chinese students, but I've never had this many in a single class. I feared that allowing students to select their own groups would result in a classroom split on ethnic lines. I thought long and hard about how to organize peer-review workshops and other group work, and here's what I came up with:

On the first day of class, students wrote a brief essay, which I evaluated based on a rubric. This essay revealed that most of my Chinese students were competent writers and two of them were really excellent, while three needed serious help with their writing. I was concerned that the students with poor language skills would get very little benefit from a peer-review group in which they struggled to understand others and to be understood.

Therefore, for the first round of peer review, I assigned students to groups, making sure that each group contained at least one very strong writer. I took special care with the three struggling Chinese students, assigning them to groups that included a very strong Chinese writer. This worked fairly well, because the stronger Chinese students were able to provide understandable feedback to the struggling writers.

For later peer review sessions, I sometimes assigned groups randomly. This worked less well. Several of the groups functioned effectively and provided useful feedback, but the Chinese students who most needed help didn't always get it. Some students were willing to put in the effort required to get across the language divide, while others were not.

At the end of the semester, I allowed students to select their own groups, with entirely predictable results: the football-players group, the smart-girls group, the quiet-guys group, and two groups of Chinese students. By this point in the semester everyone's peer review skills had improved, so the groups worked fairly well. It did sound odd to hear peer review being conducted in two different languages.

Based on this experience, I will continue to assign groups early in the semester and loosen up later, after students' peer-review skills have improved. I have also been conferring with our ESL people, as I have another class next semester with a large group of foreign students. I welcome suggestions.

Oh, and the three struggling students? One passed the class; one missed more than half of the class sessions and did not pass; and a third came very close to passing but will have to take it again.

Dr. Lisa said...

I always have them pick the peers they want to read their material. Hmmm. Perhaps that is not a good way to do it.

Jane Dark said...

Bardiac's system for setting up peer reviews is remarkably similar to the way that I set up mine, but I haven't done the peer review grading in that way before, and I think I might use it next quarter.

Sometimes, though I do things slightly differently, and alternate between choosing groups for the students and letting them choose their own groups. The key to making this work well seems to be that I use a lot of small group discussion (3-4 people) in a prelude to full class discussion -- and because they've been talking over the ideas with those people, they usually feel comfortable being reviewed by and reviewing them (pardon my bad syntax).

To a certain degree, this puts friends together. But with the right class of energetic people, I don't have a problem with that. It tends to lead to a pair of friends with a pair of friends -- but in the end, all four get to know each other better and become better editors for each other.

kermitthefrog said...

Thanks for all the input, folks - I know I'll be using some of these ideas next semester.