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The Power of Peer Feedback

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One of the most powerful elements throughout the writing process is peer feedback. Unless students are blogging, they’re mostly writing with the idea in mind that the main audience is the teacher. Shifting this mindset in students will allow them to take on writing with a much larger scope. Students should see their peers as audience as well.

The Benefits of Peer Review

 Peer review provides a metacognitive process of learning in that both the students and the teachers are able to receive feedback. Teachers will receive feedback on their pedagogical practice.

Consider the following questions when assessing peer feedback:

  • Does this student understand the task?
  • How is this student’s understanding of the task similar to his/peers?
  • How are the peers working together to give feedback?
  • What kind of feedback are they providing?
  • Does the feedback relate to the assignment outcomes?
  • How can I best communicate assignment outcomes to ensure strong peer feedback?

Students benefit from peer feedback in that they are able to teach other about the tasks and provide feedback that they would consider relevant. In seeing that their peer feedback is relevant, students will be more engaged and invested in working to complete the task successfully. Peer feedback also gives students an opportunity to have their voices heard, and to listen to each other. It is often easier for us to understand concepts from people who are similar in age as we are.

How to Introduce Peer Review

Set expectations from the start of the lesson that peer review is not about judging each other’s work, but helping each other out. Also, remind students that it’s important for the peer feedback space to be safe, judgement-free in order for everyone to truly benefit from the feedback.

  • Have students focus on the positive aspects of the work before pointing out areas of improvement.
  • Show students how they can phrase things constructively. Instead of “I don’t understand the point of your introduction,” try this: “Your thesis statement can be stronger. Can you provide examples?”
  • Provide students with categories/areas to focus on when giving feedback, for example: Grammar, structure, sentences, creativity, etc.
Many students will not be so keen on the idea of peer review. After all, who wants their peers to read their work and assess it? However, if their peers can help them see the benefits, and the importance of the process, they will actually enjoy it!

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (10) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Junaid Mubeen's picture
Junaid Mubeen
Head of Product at Whizz Education

Hi Rusul,

I read your post with eagerness as it reminded me of a literature review I put together a while back on peer review a few years ago when I was working at Write the World. I remember touching briefly on peer review models adopted by MOOCs, which were nascent at the time. Can you speak to how the MOOC community has utilised peer review to scale quality feedback and engage their writers as part of a community of critical reviewers?

I'm happy to send the paper to you if that's of interest.


Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Hi Junaid, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts! When I wrote this post, I was thinking of peer feedback as a process to happen in the classroom with mostly k-12. The peer review process might be a little different. Most definitely can be comparable though.

I was introduced to the MOOC community by following a lot of work on Hybrid Pedagogy @HybridPed and the folks who run it. They're amazing at working through the process of peer review. Maha Bali, one of the editors there, she has shared a bit about it. It's very fluid, everything happens on Google Doc with the writer's involvement. Peers act more as facilitators of questions and inquiry. Again I haven't experienced it myself but know about it from connecting and reading about it. Please share any resources that might be related to this topic. It'd be great to learn more about it.

Rey Carr's picture

My research on peer feedback revealed that educating the students ahead of time about the elements of peer feedback was essential. Just asking them to "provide feedback" is a waste of everyone's time. Your work in setting expectations is the key to helping students provide feedback that is valid and meaningful.

amiereid's picture

Great article! I think that supportive peer feedback also encourages a sense of community and connectedness for students, which is paramount for fostering a sense of belonging in the classroom. If the only assessment is teacher-based, it models an 'us vs them' dynamic and may discourage autonomy.

Geoffrey Gevalt's picture
Geoffrey Gevalt
Founder of Young Writers Project, a Vermont-based educational nonprofit


Great points in this article. As you know, Young Writers Project has worked for 10 years in the practice of peer-to-peer feedback, both in in-school platforms and out-of-school platforms, notably, a free and respectful community for teen writers and digital media artists. We've also done a lot of training for teachers and worked in classrooms around the practice of p2p feedback.

A couple of things that I'd add to build on your post gleaned from staff, youths and teachers along the way:

In a digital space or in face-to-face situations start first by helping the youths figure out what it is they notice about their peer's piece. Have them take notes and read twice. (Or have the youth author read twice.)

Help the youth then articulate what they notice -- in a way that will be well-received. How would you feel if you received this feedback? Is it helpful? Would you feel hurt? Would you want to dive in and do some more work on it?

Urge the students to offer reciprocal comments -- comment back to the person who gave the feedback. This is about respect -- your peer took the time to read, reflect and comment on your piece; honor that and tell them how it affected you.

As a structure for the commenting, have the youths start with something positive, something they liked. Then address one thing that confused or that the youth wondered about. We call it 1 + 1. "I really liked how you ... " "I wondered about ..."

The hardest thing about peer to peer feedback is coping with youth tendencies, particularly those that are developing as youths interact with social media, such as:

1. The tendency just to be nice and say "that's really great." We call that throw-away language. We work with the youths to help them understand that while it's nice it doesn't help the author improve her/his work.

2. The tendency to focus on little things such as spelling. We work with the youths to NOT comment about grammar, punctuation, spelling, but to react to the essence of the piece -- whether it works for you -- and some of the important style/construction issues -- where does it drift, confuse or, conversely, interest you (as in, I want more about that!).

3. The tendency not to go to a specific, substantive comment. Feedback is difficult for anyone to do. A big issue with youths is "being honest," as in how do I tell someone that I really didn't like the post. We work with youths to read it again and see where you think the author can take a single action that would help the piece. Turn it positive. But be honest. We also emphasize with them that they are NOT judging it; their job is to share with them their own expertise, that is: "How my brain reacted to your piece." Sharing that knowledge will help the author. And if the reader reads it twice or even three times and still can't figure out how to express themselves about how they feel -- pose a question, as in ... "Thanks for sharing this. I wondered if you thought about writing this from the viewpoint of ... Or I wondered if you might just write about this part ... "

Hope that adds something. I could, actually, write a book about this all. It is so amazing to see how powerful some of these youths are when they give feedback. AND, as we all know, helping kids improve their feedback skills will help them view their own work in a more objective way. It helps them become better writers.

So glad you posted this and that you shared this link on another's post. And, I hope you are well. Haven't conversed since digiwrimo!


Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Hi Geoff, thank you so much for this peer feedback :) I agree with you on all points, and especially the part where we discourage students from commenting about grammar/spelling etc. I found with my students, it was hard for them to grasp this, so I suggested that they simple write: sp/grammar check. However, once they focused on the content, many students said it relaxed them throughout the process. I totally understand that, it can be hard to have someone do a grammar/spell check of your writing.

Again thank you for your comment, and if you have more to share, feel free to write here as a community post, or even submit as a blog post.

Garreth Heidt's picture
Garreth Heidt
High School Liberal Studies teacher, Design-minded educator, Forensics Coach

The discussions here and on the "Writer's Workshop in Secondary School Classrooms" article that brought me here are excellent. I think, however, there's a crucial distinction to be made between Criterion Based Feedback (the technical "red-ink" markings that many students expect as evaluation of the "rightness" of their writing) and Reader Based Feedback (the felt-sense born of the reader's experience of a piece of writing). While there is a time and place for both, most students tend to think that only the former really matters in the end. (By the way, both "Criterion Based Feedback" and "Reader Based Feedback" are terms from Peter Elbow's "Writing with Power" a text that ought to be required reading for all teachers of writing.)

Here's a great slide-deck I found that summarizes these concepts. For more, read Elbow's work, especially his work with Pat Belanoff: "A Community of Writers." For in depth experience, attend the Institute for Writing and Thinking at Bard College, particularly their introductory class, "Writing and Thinking."

Geoffrey Gevalt's picture
Geoffrey Gevalt
Founder of Young Writers Project, a Vermont-based educational nonprofit

Garreth, I couldn't disagree with you more! :)

Over the last 10 years, Young Writers Project has worked with tens of thousands of youths in school and outside of school. Our experience clearly shows that youths highly value peer response (even when their schools don't) and specific, detailed feedback from teachers on how to make their work better. I have yet to run into a single youth who said they preferred the "red-ink" technical or "rightness" comments of which you speak. They find those mark-ups to be judgmental and not very helpful to their desire to get better. I have trained hundreds of teachers to put their red pens away and to focus on more substantive aspects of the writing.

If you really do think that youths feel "red-ink" feedback matters more, then I think you are missing some of the context, that is, that for some students having a teacher proof-read or copy edit their work helps gives them the information they need to quickly make changes to tweak their grade. That's part of the grade game. But don't confuse that with what they value.

I think that this article makes a strong case for the value of peer to peer commenting. You seem not to acknowledge that.

Sorry to be blunt. I appreciate your citations and links and all, but in my experience I just have not found what you say to be true and feel that this post has it right -- peer response is very important in engaging youths to learn, improve their work and understand audience.


Garreth Heidt's picture
Garreth Heidt
High School Liberal Studies teacher, Design-minded educator, Forensics Coach

I think you're over reading my intent (if that's possible), or perhaps I wasn't clear (more possible). My intent in saying that students feel the red ink matters was to indicate that many students are simply looking to get the grade. There's a cynicism there that I may have buried in the original post.

Indeed, I use peer feedback, reader response, more than I do criterion based feedback. I was brought up as a writer on Elbow, Belanoff, Donald Graves, etc. I know the value of writers talking to writers, not simply to teachers for assessment. In fact, my experience with my HS students mirrors yours. However, I do have students, and I teach gifted students only, who simply want to know how to get the A. This is a systemic issue, not necessarily one with writing pedagogy. I may have mixed that message in the original post, though I have to say I never denigrated peer-response.

The work you're doing sounds great. I'd champion anything of the sort.

Geoffrey Gevalt's picture
Geoffrey Gevalt
Founder of Young Writers Project, a Vermont-based educational nonprofit


Nice to know that on the web, something you wrote four months ago still is alive!

Thanks so much for responding, particularly since I am not usually that blunt and I am glad that it was received as it was intended.

I more clearly understand your point and I appreciate your having taken the time to elucidate. I would say that, yes, there are students who are just going after the grade and I would say they are just as challenging to teach writing to as the students at the other end of the grading spectrum who believe they aren't any good at writing, don't like it, think it's boring and think it doesn't have much value.

We understand that. But what we go after first is helping the youth find something that interests them and then develop that idea -- regardless of the "assignment." With THAT interest -- which gets into self-motivation -- the desire to know how to get a good grade diminishes.

I would also argue that if you have your students REGULARLY sharing, critiquing and revising in a digital space, the grade chasing diminishes as does, we have found, bullying. It is an equalizer; it also shows them which of their peers are trying and which aren't and that also becomes a powerful self-motivator. If you want to see what I mean, poke around on where we have 2,5000 active youths from around the U.S. regularly posting, giving each other comments and revising OUTSIDE of school. (Soon we will have unique formal learning modules in writing and digital media.) You can't see all the commenting, nor can you see that many of the posts have revisions based on those comments, but you can see the quality of work and exchange.

Take care and thanks for the response. Very helpful.


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