Peer editing is a teaching technique that ought to always be terrific. Students get to teach and learn from one another with minimal instructor intervention. It’s low stakes. It’s reflexive. Students can work with people and writing that is unlike themselves and their own. Everyone gets to participate, down to the quietest students.
But I always feel a little stuck somewhere in the process. I give instructions – find the thesis and the main points, demonstrate to the author what you do/don’t understand, give overall comments – and then let the students go to. They seem to enjoy it. They work and talk together and there is a good feeling in the classroom, but I’m not convinced the writing improves as a result. Sometimes this is because underconfident writers are trying to guide one another, but other times I feel like I haven’t instructed it well.
And unlike other parts of teaching, where I have the opportunity to get better at instruction through repetition, I usually only find time for peer editing once or twice each semester. It’s time consuming, and I’m not always sure students see the point; as a result, I often go back to teaching in the styles that I know well: small group discussions, mini-lectures, in-class debates, etc.
This is a technique that I really want to succeed, but I feel like I’m missing a crucial element. It sort of feels like trying to put Ikea furniture together with a screw missing. I welcome suggestions here.