Are you struggling with peer editing in your English classroom? I’m not gonna lie…I’ve struggled with this instructional mainstay for the following reasons over the years (see how many are true for you, too):
- Students don’t take it seriously.
- Students sugarcoat their responses.
- Higher-level students become disenchanted with inaccurate feedback.
- Students don’t actually use peer feedback to revise.
- Students value teacher feedback more than peer feedback.
- It takes time to pair students and check to see if they are giving accurate feedback.
I’ve had success in training students to leave feedback, but getting there takes time.
What is peer editing?
Let’s start with the basics. Traditional peer editing is exactly what it sounds like: peers look at others’ work in order to provide feedback. I remember in school having that one inevitable day when, boom, my paper was shuttled off to a random peer. I don’t remember my teacher telling us how to give feedback. And I don’t remember it being especially useful to me as a writer.
I don’t want my students to feel like peer editing is disconnected from what we do on the daily in the classroom. I don’t want them to feel like it’s just another activity, a hoop to jump through, a useless endeavor.
What I find redeeming about peer editing is as follows:
- Students have an expanded audience.
- Students encounter a variety of different work other than their own.
- Peer editing is relationship-affirming and community-building.
What I’m proposing in this blog post is that traditional peer editing of yore ceases to exist.
Planning to use a class period for a peer editing activity without any prior prep. does not mean it will be a productive use of time.
📌 Plan for purposeful instruction on the skills involved in peer editing.
📌 Move entirely to a writer’s workshop model, replacing peer editing with writing circles and 1:1 or group teacher conferences.
📌 Have students self-edit using stations or color-coding.
Five Essentials for Teaching Purposeful Student Feedback
I would suggest starting small and building students’ capacity to provide meaningful feedback.
- Model your own feedback. Out loud. On the spot. In front of the students. Tell them what you’re noticing and what you are thinking about.
- Decode and unpack exemplar assignments together. Help students see how each exemplar connects to the skills being taught and assessed.
- Give students a role to play. Having students think of themselves as readers vs. a friend helps to put them in the right mindset.
- Use clear and easy-to-use strategies.
- Hold students accountable for giving quality feedback.
Four Strategies for Student Peer Editing
One: Give students a specific focus.
Why is this helpful? Students can become overwhelmed by trying to mark all the things, and that’s not good feedback practice anyhow.
Two: Have student writers leave comments asking for specific feedback.
Why is this helpful? This practice allows student writers to reflect on their own writing and pinpoint areas they are struggling with. These comments can serve as a starting point for peer feedback.
Three: Use sentence starters.
Why is this helpful? Sentence starters give a gentle nudge in the direction of quality feedback. They give a language for success. Here are some of my favorites:
- I’m noticing…
- Can you clarify…
- I’m wondering…
- When you say…, I’m thinking…
- I was expecting ________, and/but…
Four: Teach three-part commentary.
Why is this helpful? Three-part commentary goes beyond sentence starters to give a flexible framework students can use for every comment. Unlike “sandwich feedback” or TAG feedback, it sets students up to be less superficial in their commentary on their peers’ writing.
➡️ Describe what you’re noticing.
i.e. I’m noticing that you used the word “thing” five times in this paragraph.
➡️ Tell how what you’re noticing impacts you as a reader.
i.e. When I was reading, I felt disconnected from what you were talking about and found myself wishing I could picture what you were discussing a little bit more.
➡️ Remind the writer of a resource or offer a suggestion to help.
i.e. Remember when we played the game of things in class to practice writing with specific, concrete details? I’d suggest revisiting the handout on Google Classroom to help you replace “thing” with memorable, sensory details.
So, a full comment would look something like this:
I’m noticing that you used the word “thing” five times in this paragraph. When I was reading, I felt disconnected from what you were talking about and found myself wishing I could picture what you were discussing a little bit more. Remember when we played the game of things in class to practice writing with specific, concrete details? I’d suggest revisiting the handout on Google Classroom to help you replace “thing” with memorable, sensory details.
**To get students to this level, you have to commit to teaching feedback as a skill, provide the three-part commentary strategy as a guide and practice a LOT.
Students do need to be held accountable for giving quality feedback, and that it’s helpful for students to have more than one person provide feedback on their writing.
I’ve also found success in scaffolding feedback. Instead of solo response, have students team up to look at a peer’s draft and leave comments. Or, have groups of 3-4 students take turns looking at and discussing their drafts with each other.
Beyond Peer Editing: Writer’s Workshop
As I mentioned above, it may be more useful to skip peer editing and move entirely to a writer’s workshop model, replacing peer editing with writing circles and 1:1 or group teacher conferences.
To make this work, consider whether you would like homogeneous or heterogeneous groupings in terms of ability/readiness. You can regroup the writing circles after each assignment or you can have the same students work together all year long. There are benefits and drawbacks to each choice.
- The goal of a writing circle is to give students a place to bring their writing, to brainstorm ideas, to collaborate.
- The goal of a teacher conference is for the student(s) to lead, helping to direct the conversation, and leave with clear and actionable steps for their continued work on the assignment.
I think there is value in having students learn to self-edit.
➡️ Sometimes, I pace students through the revision process with clear directives and time frames. i.e. Add 3 repeated word transition links in the next five minutes.
I will type each goal on a different slide and project them on the board, along with a timer. This really helps to focus students who may otherwise find it hard to focus during large blocks of unstructured editing or peer review time.
➡️ Other times, I have students color-code their drafts according to skills or parts of an assignment and then reflect/set a goal for revision. Color-coding helps students to visually see which parts of an assignment are missing or need work.
I think that there is a time and a place for peer editing in the classroom, but we as teachers need to be aware of the need to train students to provide quality feedback. Quality feedback doesn’t just happen.
At the same time, feedback from peers shouldn’t be a one-stop shop when it comes to revision work. There shouldn’t be the expectation that peer reviewers will find and comment on everything as a magic bullet step before final turn-in of an assessment. Combining multiple strategies: color-coding and self-reflection, writer’s workshop, teacher conferences, and peer editing has given me the most success.
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