Peer Response

Thinking About Peer Responses Outside the “Day,” Outside the Formula, and Outside the Classroom

Why Peer Responses?

There are a number of positive values for requiring peer response. Some are traditional. Here are some traditional peer response formats: Peer Editing for Fun and Profit or Peer Response Form or Peer Response Sheet

Peer response

  • Focuses student attention on audience
  • Forces students to develop a draft at least a day or two before the “final” version is due
  • Allows more able students to give feedback to less able students (occasionally)

But we also depend on them for many “by-products” of the process  (and who’s to say which is the by-product and which is the product?).

Peer response

  • Works as a sort of “norming” process so students who didn’t understand the assignment can start to understand what kind of paper is expected
  • Allows students to read a good number of essays so they can gain confidence by comparing their work against less-developed essays
  • Spurs students to greater effort when they compare their work to better-developed essays
  • Forces students to make drafts that we teachers ourselves can look at in order to help students
  • Gives us a day when students are mentally able to do some work of their own on their own drafts
  • Is a day when everybody suffers together so it builds community

Unfortunately, we have the negative by-products:

Peer response

  • Humiliates students who have writing blocks
  • Humiliates students whose papers are the worst in their group
  • Humiliates students who are slow readers

So, how can we keep the positive aspects, reduce the negative by-products, and make the Peer Response process more helpful and more humane?

  • Think outside the Peer Response “Day”: Use peer response occasionally during the weeks leading up to the draft. Ask students to write (or bring in) one tiny bit of the papers on which they are working. Then, after some in-class work on that issue, ask them to share their:
    • thesis statements
    •  or their opening lines
    •  or their titles or topic sentences from their body paragraphs
    • or their methodology paragraphs (if required)
    •  or one well-developed paragraph with great details

...and give them time to do this during class on days before the official Peer Response “Day.” The sharing will probably be done just in pairs, not in large groups.

  • Think outside the formula.  Just because it’s Peer Response day, you don’t have to start by doing peer responses! Instead, start by asking students to improve the drafts they have brought in -- before handing them off to others. [You may want to hold Peer Response day in the AT lab.]  All of the suggestions below can be done by handwriting OR if you are in the lab, the students can manipulate their papers digitally.
    • Refine the thesis so that it is precise and accurate. Underline or highlight the thesis to help readers.
    • Expand the title into a short, clever title (give them help with this) and a long, boring explanatory title.
    • Make certain that every topic sentence connects in some way to the thesis. 
    • Add some dialogue or sensory detail to one body paragraph.
    • Make the opening line more intriguing (give them help with this).
    • You get the idea.

THEN, after this preliminary work, begin the peer response process.

  • Think outside the classroom. This is a particularly good idea for literature classes, in which the students are writing looooong essays yet you have so much going on that you hesitate to use a full class period for peer responses (which are still useful!!). Give students written, specific, easy directions, preferably in a chart or rubric, and ask them to respond to one, two, or (at most) three student essays on their own, between one class and the next. Give some real credit for this work.

Responding outside the classroom can be done with hard-copy papers or digitally. Students can simply exchange email addresses and then send attachments to each other. They can add comments in a number of ways (bold, brackets, capitals) or simply send a digital chart/rubric, filled out, back to the author. 

In a composition class, you might try one of the digital-response software programs like Comment.

Finally, if you decide to hold an in-class peer response session, use the time to read some student essays and give appropriate advice. That means that you should ask everybody to bring in at least two copies (perhaps enough for everyone in a group).

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