PEER AND FEEDBACK GROUPS AT UH MANOA

Most experienced instructors use some form of peer review or feedback groups in their UH Mānoa writing-intensive courses. They have found that encouraging students to respond to each other’s drafts has numerous benefits. These benefits include:


  • increasing student editing skills, for use on their own writing as well as on the writing of others

  • promoting active learning

  • motivating multiple drafts and substantial revisions

  • building classroom community

  • providing a wider audience for student-writers

  • underscoring the collaborative nature of writing

  • modeling most workplace writing

Simply telling students to respond to each other’s writing, however, is seldom sufficient. Experienced instructors have found they must teach students how to respond. This effort often spans an entire semester.

The Mānoa Writing Program has assembled some resources to help instructors teach students how to respond. These resources include:

One Way to Set-up Feedback Groups
Examples of the use of Peer Respondents in classes at UH Mānoa
A Collection of Sample Peer Response Guidelines
A Guide for Assessing the Effectiveness of Peer Responding

Each of these will be found below.

One Way to Set-up Feedback Groups

Since writing occurs within a community, many teachers find it useful to encourage students to become one another's coaches of good writing. Organized feedback groups, which may or may not meet during class time, provide one way of helping students to structure the feedback and advice they give one another. A typical peer-response group includes three or four student writers. In a fifty-minute class, each author might have twelve to fifteen minutes of floor time. During each author's time in the spotlight, some variant of the following sequence typically occurs (the type of peer group described below is often referred to as an "Elbow group" because it is based on chapter four, "The Teacherless Writing Class" in Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow, 1973).

First, the author reads from a work in progress for four minutes. The other two or three people in the group listen very carefully. Then, for one minute the listeners jot down all of the words, images, and ideas which really "stuck out," either because they were very good, or because they seem to not fit, or because they provoked questions. At the end of that one minute, the listeners should write a single sentence which seems best to sum up the point which the author was making.

Then the author reads the same passage, again for four minutes. This time through, the listeners make notes of what they are hearing, fleshing out the jottings which they made during the first reading. Once more, there is a minute of silence, during which listeners polish their notes and perhaps modify their one-sentence summary of the author's main idea.

During the remaining five minutes, the listeners each in turn provide the author with a summary of what they noted, emphasizing what worked, using their summary sentence to allow the author to see whether or not his or her central idea was clear, and perhaps pointing to areas in which the writer's might make the reader's task easier. The author during this time is allowed to say only "thank you"; she may not defend or otherwise try to prove that what she wrote was not what people heard.

The primary purpose of the peer feedback group is to give writers, who often find themselves engaged in a solitary task, an opportunity to get a sense of what their words are doing to a real live audience. Further, the process allows group members to get useful practice at using professional language to comment upon other people's writing.

Many teachers use peer feedback groups and they often require that students run a draft through a group of peers before they submit it for teacher comments.

Examples of the Use of Peer Responding at UH Mānoa

200-Level American Studies class (Instructor Anita Hodges)
300-Level Philippine Literature Class (Professor Ruth Mabanglo)
300-Level Civil Engineering (Professor Panos Prevedouros)
200-Level Art class (Lecturer Laura Ruby)
300-Level Poetry class (Professor Todd Sammons)
100-Level Sociology (Professor Michael Weinstein)
300-Level Spanish (Instructor Laura Rudoy)

A Collection of Sample Peer Response Guidelines

Providing students with guidelines or rubrics for responding is one especially useful way to foster effective peer reviews. Different students, courses, assignments and instructors call for different rubrics, so no single model will suffice.

Many instructors create new rubrics for each assignment and distribute them to students. It can also be very effective to ask students to create the guidelines that will be used by others in evaluating their drafts. Each student may be allowed to have his or her work responded to on the basis of an individualized guidelines or all students in the class may be required to collaborate to create a common rubric for each assignment. In either case, allowing students to participate in the composition of the criteria by which they will be judged increases both their critical awareness and their sense of ownership of the class and its assigned writing.

Included below is a sample of rubrics suggesting some of the possible categories and formats that writing rubrics may take.

PEER RESPONSE SHEET

PEER RESPONSE WORKSHEET

1. What seems to be the main idea of the paper? (How would you summarize it in one or two simple sentences?)
2. What words or phrases did you especially notice (i.e. that stand out to you)?
3. What title would you give to this paper?
4. What one thing did you like best? Why?
5. What one idea or theme would you like the author to have added?
6. What one idea or theme do you think could be omitted (if any)?
7. What I like best about this paper is that it is ________ although I also think it may be a little too . . .

From Jon Goss, Geography. For more information about this class, see Writing and Thinking Critically about the City.

REVISING

Revision Worksheet

TITLE _________________________________
AUTHOR _________________________________
READER _________________________________

Revision is the process of looking over what you have written and making substantial changes in such areas as organization, voice, argument, thesis, evidence, etc. Revision involves a careful rethinking of purpose and a reconsideration of audience. Think about the following questions as you revise or help another revise:


  1. Is the purpose of the writing clear in the first paragraph? (If not, why not?)

  2. Can you identify the audience for whom this is written? (Look for cues in the writing: tone, style, word choice, etc. Can a person off the street read and understand the material? If too technical, circle some of the too technical words)

  3. How is the paper organized? (Look for a pattern here: chronological, topical, logical, compare/contrast, etc. If there is a pattern, is there anything out of order?)

  4. Is evidence used to support generalizations? (Look for examples, specific details, concrete description, etc. Are all the examples supportive of the general statement?)

  5. Did the author summarize the main point of the paper in a sentence or two? (Is there a conclusion that does this?)

Comments and notes from the reader to the author:

From Wayne Iwaoka, Food Science. For more information about this class, see Journal Writing in Food Science.
[This form is modified from Teaching with Writing, Toby Fulwiler, 1987]. 

EDITING

Editing Worksheet

TITLE ______________________________
AUTHOR __________________________________
READER __________________________________

Editing is the process of fine-tuning one's writing. In transactional writing, belief and clarity are essential: a carefully revised paper will have all the necessary components for creating belief. A carefully edited paper will make that clear. In editing, a writer pays attention to sentence-level matters of word choice, tone, economy, and precision. Think about the following questions as you edit:


  1. Do you active verbs whenever you can? (Do you "decide" rather than "make a decision?")

  2. Have you cut all the dead wood from your sentences? ("It is interesting to note that editing is easy.")

  3. Do you have good reasons for using passive constructions? If not, make active ("The liquid was poured into the test tube by the chemist.")

  4. Can you use a smaller word where you have used a big one? ("Can you utilize this worksheet?")

  5. Have you used the most precise word or term that you can? (Will your audience understand it?)

  6. Do you find any cliches in your sentences? ("Can you cut through the red tape and get on the ball?")

  7. Can you combine any sentences to avoid repetition? ("The water is brown. It is flowing fast. It is polluted.")

  8. Do you have any one-sentence paragraphs?

  9. Are your references, documentation, and calculations complete and precise?

  10. Have you proofread the paper for punctuation, spelling, and typos?

Comments and notes from the reader to the author:

From Wayne Iwaoka, Food Science. For more information about this class, see Journal Writing in Food Science.[This form is modified from Teaching with Writing, Toby Fulwiler, 1987]

WRITING RUBRIC

LEVEL
CRITERIA

THESIS

25-22
EXCELLENT TO VERY GOOD: Thesis is clear and adequately reflects the purpose of the
assignment; evidence is relevant and adequately supports the thesis.

21-18
GOOD TO AVERAGE: Minor weakness in thesis and/or use of evidence (e.g., thesis somewhat ambiguous or vague or slightly off the topic; evidence sometimes irrelevant or inadequate to support all statements.)

17-11
FAIR TO POOR: Major weakness in thesis and/or use of evidence (e.g., thesis ambiguous or very vague or ignores the purpose of the assignment; evidence scanty or not related to the points under discussion).

10-5
VERY POOR: Absence of thesis and/or absence of relevant evidence.

ORGANIZATION

20-18
EXCELLENT TO VERY GOOD: Sequence of ideas (paragraphs) in the paper is clear, logical, and complete; paragraphs have topic sentences, transitions, and are internally coherent.

17-14
GOOD TO AVERAGE: Minor weaknesses in overall organizational pattern and/or paragraph structure (e.g., some irrelevant ideas/paragraphs included; some ideas omitted or not fully developed; some paragraphs with no major point).

13-10
FAIR TO POOR: Major weaknesses in organization and/or paragraph structure (e.g., frequent digressions; few transitions; serious omissions or underdevelopment).

9-7
VERY POOR: lack of overall organization and/or absence of coherent paragraphs (e.g., no explicit relationships among ideas in the paper; many one-sentence paragraphs, etc.).

VOCABULARY

20-18
EXCELLENT TO VERY GOOD: Vocabulary of sophisticated range; effective use of word/idiom choice and usage, word form mastery, appropriate register.

17-14
GOOD TO AVERAGE: Vocabulary shows adequate range; occasional errors of word/idiom form, choice, and usage, but meaning is not obscured.

13-10
FAIR TO POOR: Vocabulary has limited range, frequent errors of word/idiom form, choice, usage; meaning is confused or obscured.

9-7
VERY POOR: Vocabulary is essentially translation; clear projection from English.

LANGUAGE USE

25-22
EXCELLENT TO VERY GOOD: Good construction of sentences, including proper word order, referents, subject-verb agreement, parallel structure, modifier and clause placement; few errors of agreement, tense, number, articles, pronouns, prepositions.

21-18
GOOD TO AVERAGE: Minor weaknesses in grammar; few grammatical errors that, in the context of the essay, cause the reader some distraction; effective but simple constructions; several errors in agreement, tense, number, word order/function, articles, pronouns, prepositions, but meaning seldom obscured.

17-11
FAIR TO POOR: Major weaknesses in grammar that cause the reader significant distraction; frequent errors of negation, agreement, tense, number, word order/function; frequent errors of articles, pronouns, prepositions and/or fragments, run-ons, deletions; meaning is confused or obscured; reads like a translation from English.

10-5
VERY POOR: Poor grammar; virtually no mastery of sentence construction rules; dominated by errors; does not communicate.

MECHANICS

10-9
EXCELLENT TO VERY GOOD: Shows mastery of conventions of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, paragraphing, and accent marks.

8-7
GOOD TO AVERAGE: Occasional errors of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, paragraphing, and accent marks, but meaning is not obscured.

6-5
FAIR TO POOR: Frequent errors of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, paragraphing, and accent marks; meaning is confused or obscured.

4-2
VERY POOR: Shows no mastery of conventions; dominated by errors of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, paragraphing, and accent marks.

From Laura Rudoy, Spanish. For more information about this class, see 300-level Spanish Grammar & Composition. 

PEER REVIEW GUIDELINE SHEET

Peer Review Guidelines

Check this sheet each time you review a fellow writer's work.


  1. Always begin by seeing if the writer has something he or she wants to know from you about the paper.
  2. Your role should be to assist your fellow writer in expressing her or his ideas. Don't get caught up in providing critical evaluations, and don't re-write the paper.
  3. Read as a reader, rather than as a critic. Describe how you react to the piece: if there's something you don't like or follow, say that, rather than "This is bad: of "This is wrong."
  4. Don't serve primarily as a proofreader. If you happen to notice a recurring error, point it out, but don't spend your time correcting typos and individual spelling, grammar, or punctuation problems.
  5. Remember that you always have something to offer: it needn't be in the form of advice; if the paper seems successful as is, your saying just that may matter a good deal (and may be as astute as any set of suggestions).

Key Questions:

  1. Can you identify the main idea (or ideas)?

  2. Do you find each idea in the paper engaging?
    • Did you get lost somewhere along the way?
    • Did you find yourself presented with points that had already been made clear to you?


  3. Do the style, diction, and point of view seem appropriate to the kind of idea that's being considered?

  4. Does the paper's structure allow evidence and information to be presented compellingly?
    • Do you find yourself wanting points to be more thoroughly illustrated: Does the evidence seem to you inadequate to the point that's being made?
    • Is too much evidence presented for points you are ready to accept? does the main point seem to you less interesting than the evidence that is used to support it?

[This page is from: http://writing.yalecollege.yale.edu/advice-faculty. Copyright 1996 Yale University. Revised on Monday, May 20, 1996]

Assessing the Effectiveness of Peer Responding

Eileen E. Schell, Co-Director of Virginia Tech's First Year Writing Program, suggests instructors consider the following as they try to determine if their peer writing groups are really working.


  • Require that students hand in written peer response sheets along with their final drafts.

  • Require that students submit a cover memo with their finished writing in which they note how specifically they revised in response to the peer reviews they received.

  • Create an assessment form for peer writing groups. Sample questions might include:
    • What has been most helpful about your peer response group?
    • What suggestions do you have for making your group more effective?
    • Do you think we should continue to spend class time on peer review? Why or why not?
  • Make modifications to the groups based on student suggestions.
  • Don't give up if peer groups are not immediately effective. Students need time to learn how to respond to each other
    productively.

(Schell’s advice has been adapted from the Virginia Tech University Writing Program Peer Review page)