How to Avoid the Perils of Peer Editing

It sounds like a great idea:  teach your students to grade each other.  Actually, it is a great idea.  Good writers need multiple drafts.  You should not have to grade at least one of those drafts.

But often, initiating a peer editing program in the classroom seems like more of a chore than a time-saver.  Why is this so?  Is it because peer editors do not take their job as seriously as teachers?  Maybe, but some teachers are using peer editing effectively and cutting back on hours they spend grading as a result. 

What are these lucky teachers doing right? Here are a few simple tips to avoid the perils of peer editing:

  1. Teach them what to look for:  In the beginning, just ask your student editors to assess whether the written piece makes a point that is worth making and backs it up.  That’s all.  It will save you time later on.  Over time, make sure your students, can distinguish between big problems and smaller problems in the essays/papers they read.  (See “How Much Red Ink Should You Use?”) 

Here are the big problems: 

  • The basic point of the essay is not clear.
  • The basic point of the essay is clear, but not worth making.
  • The basic point of the essay is not supported in the essay.
  • The essay is so poorly written that you cannot figure out what the writer is trying to say: the essay is unintelligible.
  • The many grammatical problems in the essay are making it hard to understand what the writer is trying to say. 

Here are smaller problems:

  • The basic point is clear and defended, but the language is boring.
  • The essay is wordy.
  • The writer does not use a consistent tense addressing the audience.
  • The writer has some grammar weaknesses that need to be addressed. 

2.  Hold both writers and editors accountable.  When you ask students to edit each others work, make sure you give a joint grade on the result.  Grade the writer’s revisions based on the editor’s feedback, but also grade the editor’s feedback.  Since the ability to revise and to edit are equally important, explain to your students that the grade they receive on an assignment that is peer edited will depend on both the quality of their writing and revision and the quality of the feedback they give to their partner. 

 3. First, pair weak with strong. It sounds counter intuitive, but it is actually a good idea to pair very strong with very weak writers.  Why? Because strong writers will usually have a pretty good first draft that features a strong point that is well defended.  The weaker writer can help the strong writer by asking for clarification in certain areas.  The strong writer can help the weaker writer better define the main point and better organize his ideas for a second draft.  This saves you time, and it is a nice challenge for a strong writer to have to analyze and think about how to fix a weak paper.  

4. Then, mix it up.  After a few peer editing sessions, change partners.  Have strong writers edit each other.  Give weaker writers an opportunity to make suggestions for improving weaker pieces of writing. Then, keep mixing it up: Writers benefit from different perspectives!


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