Using Peer Review for Formative Assessment
Some specific strategies and things to consider that may help you handle peer review and address related concerns in your class include how you will:
- Communicate the purpose of the activity with students to gain their support. Obviously, it is not a good idea to suggest that the students are “doing your work for you”. Instead, highlight the benefits of reading and critically analyzing other’s work. Discuss how being a peer reviewer will help them understand grading criteria better and spot weaknesses in writing structure and argumentation, which will in turn help improve their own work3. Emphasize how important it is for people to get feedback on their writing during the revision stage, and that you are helping facilitate that for the entire class.
- Provide an appropriate incentive to students to encourage them to take the review process seriously. Depending on your class size, you may not have the resources to grade students’ reviews of each other’s work. However, you could set aside a component of the assignment grade to be determined by student perception of how useful the peer review is in helping them revise their work.
- Train students on providing effective feedback 4. You may want to provide detailed guidance in the form of a checklist or rubric so that students know exactly what they should be considering when reviewing someone else’s work or at least provide prompts to make sure they pay attention to important elements of their peers' writing5, 6.
- Decide how many assignments to ask students to review. If they review two or more assignments, they can compare and contrast them as well as receive a wider range of feedback on their own work. Sometimes comparing different pieces of work helps students provide more objective feedback because they are better able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of writing when they see more than one example. While some research suggests students hold positive attitudes towards peer review after the purpose has been explained 7, other work shows that students trust the process more as they get more experience of it 8. As a result, incorporating more than one round of peer review should increase the chances that you students will have greater faith in what they are doing, and why they are being asked to do it.
- Decide whether to include a face-to-face discussion to go along with the paper-based or software-based reviews. It can be useful for students to hear directly from their peers about what was unclear and excellent about their writing assignment. Face-to-face discussions allow for clarification and may even lead to paired brainstorming about revisions. Of course, this would mean that reviews are not anonymous, but there is little evidence that suggests blinding peer reviews is more useful to learners.
- Encourage students to incorporate their reviewers’ comments into their work. You may want to have students write a cover page, similar to a letter to the editor of a journal, discussing how they incorporated their reviewers’ comments so that they must tackle this task.
- Organize the logistics of the whole process. Software systems can do just this. These tools will greatly reduce the burden of organizing the reviews if you have a large class.
An Example of Peer Review in Communicating Science (SCIE 300) at UBC
Here we describe an example of how peer review is used in a third-year communicating science class at our institution. Students work individually to prepare a research paper written in scientific journal style. Their papers are based on a small-scale scientific investigation they performed in groups of 3-4. Four days after the draft papers are due as submissions to the course learning management system, students bring two copies of their paper to class. While students are working on an in-class activity, the instructor distributes the papers to the reviewers. We make sure that students in the same group are not assigned to review each other’s work and ensure that the review class peer discussions will be able to occur without anyone being left out of the discussion.
We give students a rubric and ask them, as homework, to mark up the papers as needed. Four days later, we pair students up in class to discuss their reviews. Each pair has ten minutes to discuss one paper, and then they switch.
The key features that make this process run smoothly are:
- Students are accountable and therefore invested in the process because they need to submit their draft online before coming to class. There are a few buffer days for late submissions.
- We provide a rubric to guide students’ reviews.
- We provide guidance about exactly what the pairs should be discussing.
Do you have examples of effective peer review that you would like to share? Please contact us here if so.