Perfecting Peer Editing

by Dana Loewy, the Guffey Team

Many studies point to the benefits of peer editing, but I admit to sometimes having my doubts after seeing the results of peer editing sessions in my lower division classes. However, I’ve come up with a series of steps that result in better outcomes.

Step 1  I collect first drafts and skim the content without grading. Instead, I compile a list of the most common misunderstandings and errors, such as lack of comprehension of the assignment, format, or mechanics. After the session, I e-mail or post the revision tips, or I bring them to the editing session, depending on the course format, online or in-class.

Step 2 I scramble the unmarked first drafts and distribute them among students so that no one reviews his or her own document. I tell the students to look for specific features, but not all at once. Rather, I announce the feature to examine, say, format. I request that they mark up the document. Then I give students time to evaluate the layout and formatting and invite questions, answering them when they are relevant. Such instances present a wonderful teachable moment! We move from feature to feature so students read the document looking only at the single element we are scrutinizing. Students are engaged and actively learning.

Step 3  When we’ve gone through all the elements, I ask each editor to jot down 2-3 positive aspects of the document they reviewed and 2-3 aspects that needed improvement. Time permitting, I ask students to pass on the reviewed documents two seats down to a second editor, again making sure that no one revises his or her own writing.

Step 4  After the second round of editing, the marked-up documents are returned to their authors, who complete their revisions at home and bring the second draft to the next class session—with the marked-up first draft stapled to the revised version.

This staged editing procedure has many benefits for students. Because they more readily find errors in their peers’ writing than in their own, reading other students’ writing provides them with perspective on their own work. Likewise, students benefit from my instructions directing them to pay attention to specific elements I’ll be evaluating when I grade the assignment.

For instructors, the plusses of this process are also clear. Most important, I find the work I grade much improved. Additionally, students appreciate the “freebie” of being able to revise their writing at home—they even view me as more supportive to their efforts, a real bonus! From a pedagogical standpoint, the guided revision puts the onus on students to do the work. And while some go to the writing center where they may receive too much help, they are learning, which is what counts!

Ultimately, I have found that peer editing can be an invaluable teaching tool.

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How do you incorporate peer editing into your classroom? Share your stories

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