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Peer editing

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.


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3 comments to Peer editing

  • I didn’t believe in collaborative work very much until I started teaching at Skidmore College. Group and collaborative work is embraced by the very prepared and intellectually curious students there. After trying it a few times, I found it to be a higher value approach.

    When I tried to replicate the process elsewhere, it didn’t work as well. So, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I think the solution is to set incredibly clear expectations on day one and discourage those who are academic wallflowers from continuing if they don’t embrace the particular objectives of the class.

    The biggest risk in peer editing, or any group work are the weak links.

    No warm and fuzzy, but my experience over ten years as an adjunct.


  • Last semester, I was one of the assistants for a graduate research writing course (working closely with a group of about 10 students through the semester). This was obviously a different setting, and we did many drafts throughout the course of the semester. However, I would agree that I didn’t see major changes in the drafts after peer review. I did, however, hear my students reflecting critically on their own work in new ways. They would ask me questions based on what they saw in the other students’ papers (about a whole range of subjects: length, approach, content, citation style, etc). While this didn’t necessarily lead to significant adjustments in their own work, I do think that what students gain from reading another student’s work is a good deal of perspective on their own. I think it’s great if only for the exposure to writing that is much closer to their own in style and content than most of what they read.

  • I also fully recommend peer editing. It fosters a collaborative learning experience for the students.

    For the past three years, I have had students read each others’ case studies, which is the end of semester paper based on their work with a struggling student. Students post their near finished case study on Db on Bb. I set up a chart of readers and the students comment on each others’ papers. I do NOT read the papers at this time. About a week later, the papers are due on Chalk and Wire. This gives the students time to make the recommended edits and revisions.