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“No One Writes Alone”: Attitude, Peer Review, and English Composition

This week I am gone from campus at a conference, so my ENG 111 students are peer reviewing their essays online in Moodle Forums instead of meeting in person. My students will be practicing critical thinking and communications skills while they read through my peer review handout, read their peers’ essays and comment on various aspects of the assignment, and revise their own essays. They kick off the peer review by watching this Youtube video about the importance and value of peer feedback:

 

http://techtv.mit.edu/genres/25-humanities-arts-and-social-sciences/videos/14629-no-one-writes-alone-peer-review-in-the-classroom-a-guide-for-students

 

I think the video is a great resource to introduce and support peer workshops, because the video leaves students with some good take-aways.

 

  1. No one writes alone
  2. A peer reviewer isn’t an expert, they’re a reader
  3. Everyone writes for readers

 

These may seem like surface details, but they are really nice reminders half-way through the first composition course in our sequence. This is the students’ second peer review. Some of the issues I face when I introduce and assign peer review have to do with the students’ approach to the assignment. Some students feel like they’re not experts, or like they don’t want to offer feedback because they’re not the one who will be grading the paper in the end. Peer review can be quite useless when even part of the class has one of those attitudes. Poor peer reviews are often one or two sentences. The reviewer doesn’t know what he or she is looking for, or how to comment on what he or she does see. The reason this video is nice, is that it introduces peer review and gives concrete information for the students about what peer review needs to be, and what it is not supposed to be.

 

Peer review is, above all, a safety net for students to offer a mostly finished draft and get feedback without grades attached. Peer review is a practice run for the final draft. This video, I think, helps students acquire that mindset. When students really start to see that the writing they do in English courses is practice, and not product, oriented, they start to see the value of peer contributors. Nobody practices basketball alone forever and becomes great–they need to be able to run around and play with others. Writing is really very similar, in that writers have to try new things and fail at them, over and over again, to become great. Peer reviews help students see where their papers aren’t working as well–from the eyes of an outside reader. In the end, the goals of English 111 are to prep students to write for college, for work, and for personal purposes. When they develop a stronger, more critical eye for others’ work, they develop the same skills for re-reading and revising their own work.

 

I like this video, and am glad to have found and used it this term. I think it’s made a real difference in my students’ approach to peer review! Attitude is everything, so the cliche goes!

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