SETTING UP PEER RESPONSE SESSIONS AND WORKSHOPS

  1. Quickly assess students' prior experience.  Before coming to our class, students may have had a number of positive peer response experiences, a number of negative ones,or perhaps no experiences sharing writing at all.  Ask students to describe the most or least helpful feedback they've ever received on a paper, or the most or least helpful peer response groups they've ever been in and what made them that way.  Use these ideas to help students understand the things that lead to good revisions, the focus required for good peer response, and the ground rules for participating in a workshop effectively.
  2. "Norm" students for peer response.  In addition to the above, briefly discuss your goals for the peer response activity, the role you see it playing in the writing process, the value (or points) you give to focused, constructive criticism, and any other expectations you have for students as they share their work.  Explicitly stating your goals for the writing workshop encourages students to take it seriously.
  3. Decide how to structure peer response sessions and workshops:
    • Whole-class discussion of one student paper is best early in the semester.  Choose a paper that's relatively strong and then work with students to model the amount and kinds of response you expect them to give to each other's work.  Ask the writer to stay silent while the class talks, taking notes on the suggestions you and other people make.  At the end of the workshop session, the writer may respond to critique by telling the class what s/he will attend to first in the revision process.
    • Small-group discussions of students' texts are best with groups of three to five, and are best scheduled later on in the semester when students have a better sense of your expectations.  Ask students to freewrite a list of 2-3 areas in their papers that they ran into trouble or got confused.  Peer responders should target these areas explicitly in their feedback, offering questions and comments that writers can use in order to start revising.
    • Peer Response Pairs may help students who share similar ideas or approaches to an assignment.  In addition to responding to each other's drafts, each pair should share the resources they found or used in order to answer the essay prompt and the reasoning behind their decisions to approach the assignment the way they did.
    • Peer Response through Blackboard VISTA.  If time runs short, ask students to begin the peer review workshop in class but finish it at home.  Use five to ten minutes of class time to give pairs or groups time to exchange drafts (or make arrangements foremailing them to each other) and discuss any issues in their drafts that they'd like their peers to address.  Peer critiquers then take the drafts home, read them, craft substantial responses to the work, and post them to a discussion thread in VISTA.
  4. Decide what kinds of direction peer responders will receive.  Since undirected peer critique often results in general, unhelpful, or overly grammar-focused comments, focus peer critique on specific areas where students may have problems or questions.  Give students a set of questions or prompts you develop that they can use when responding to their peers' work.  The prompts may take the form of a rubric or scoring guide, or you could also solicit suggestions from the class in a brief discussion of what issues they had while drafting.  Or you could ask students themselves to list the particular questions they have about the assignment at this stage and problems they've run into while writing.  Students should hand this freewrite to the people who've agreed to review their work.
  5. Decide how and if to evaluate the peer responses.  Give students some points toward the final paper grade for doing a certain number of peer responses, or for turning in critiques of a certain length or quality.  Another option would be to allow students to turn in papers only after they have attached some number of peer responses. Quickly show the best peer critiques in class and tell students what makes them good.  Doing these things will help motivate students to attend to details during peer review.