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Peer Review
Peer Review is a common method used by teachers to help engage their students in reviewing and editing each other's work. Peer Review started as a more interactive method of teaching to try and interest students and get them involved in their own work. Peer Review can be very effective in the student's own personal growth when it comes to writing and editing.

History of Peer Review
In the early 1970s, educators found their students' academic performances in college dropping dramatically. In the article "Collaborative Learning and the Conversation of Mankind", Kenneth Bruffee describes the situation as follows:
"For American college teachers the roots for collaborative learning lie neither in radical politics or in research. They lie in the nearly desperate response of harried colleges during the early 1970s to a pressing educational need. A decade ago, faculty and administrators in institutions throughout the country became aware that, increasingly, students entering college had difficulty doing as well in academic studies as their native ability suggested they should be able to do."

Educators searched for a problem, and found a growing trend in students adapting to college life. They found that many students would not accept help from professors or other faculty. As researchers and professors wondered what the cause may be, it was hypothesized that "students were refusing help because the kind of help provided seemed merely an extension of their work, the expectations, and above all the structure of traditional classroom teaching". It seemed to many that this "traditional classroom learning" unprepared many college students. This led to the view that an alternative to learning was needed.
One of the most commonly used alternatives practices turned out to be peer review. In describing the success of peer tutoring, Bruffee writes,"Through peer tutoring the teachers could reach students by organizing them to teach each other. And peer tutoring, it turned out, was just one way of doing that, although perhaps the most readily institutionalized way."

Peer review and peer tutoring would become a popular way of reaching out to students in alternative methods. Its success in helping students help each other make it a widely-used practice today.

Concerns about Use of Peer Review
While peer review can be an effective tool in composition classroom, it's success hinges on many factors.
Linda Nilson arrives at three major issues with peer feedback: “the intrusion of students’ emotions into the evaluative process, their ignorance of professional expectations and standards for various types of work, and their laziness in studying the work and/or in writing up the feedback” (35). Because the instructor is the only individual who will determine their grade in the end, “some pay scant attention to the feedback of peers” (Nilson 35). Nilson proposes that instructors “grade the peer feedback that students provide” and ask students to identify certain parts of the work such as the thesis and topic sentences rather than judge or give a personal reaction (36). Nilson does not oppose using peer feedback in the classroom as long as instructors can guide students to develop valuable peer responses. Peer review can be ineffective if the students do not take the exercise seriously, or do not have trust in their peer's ability to edit and review their work. Linda Nilson asserts that using peer review in the classroom could put students at a disadvantage because “research finds that this type of feedback has questionable validity, reliability, and accuracy, and instructors consider much of it too uncritical, superficial, vague, and content-focused” (34). However, when students are asked to evaluate each other’s work, “research studies have found peer learning and assessment to be quite effective methods for developing critical thinking, communication, lifelong learning, and collaborative skills” (Nilson 34). These characteristics are essential to achievement and advancement in academia as well as the workforce. Nilson elaborates on her original claim that implementing peer review could be detrimental to students due to the fact “that peer assessments are biased by friendship and race” (34). She explains how “reliability is especially poor when students evaluate each other’s essays and oral presentations…the most common contexts for peer feedback” (Nilson 34). In addition to the negative aspects I have just listed, students also tend to grade more leniently than the instructor; however, these obstacles can be vanquished.

Another issue with peer revision is how authoritative the student feels about revising his/her works and the works of other. In an article published in College Composition and Communication was a study conducted by college composition professor Carol Berkenkotter about the students sense of authority over their own texts. It showed how students tend to be more emotionally involved in their own work and, as stated before, tend not to take peer revisions seriously because they do not value revisions done by someone other than their professor. This study showed students disdain and even hostility towards his or her revisors because they tended to be too attached to their original work. Student were asked to "think out loud" and record their reactions to their peer revision on tape and it showed that students were either too dependant on the revisions made by their peers or violently opposed to them and were even offended by some of the remarks made by their fellow classmates. Reactions like these make peer revision difficult for students to appreciate since most do not want to hurt anyone elses feelings or they know their opinions do not really matter to the writer.

Effective Peer Review in the Modern Classroom
Bruffee states, “to teach expository writing seems to involve demonstrating to students that they know something only when they can explain it in writing to the satisfaction of the community of their knowledgeable peers” (Bruffee 560). He supports the importance of finding a much-needed alternative to “traditional classroom learning” to better educate students. While Nilson’s concerns about peer editing have proven to be valid, educators like Mark Hall refuse to abandon the process of peer editing, searching instead for various methods to solve these problems. In his article “The Politics of Peer Response,” Hall encourages instructors to “reconsider the ways [they] theorize peer response groups,” suggesting that if done correctly, the process of peer review can become a more useful tool within the composition classroom.

Nilson’s voiced concern that students often gave little or insufficient feedback to their peers upon reviewing their writing. However, a study in a series of assessment briefs conducted at the University of South Florida found that students were more likely to give increased feedback with “meaningful comments” to peers if given “a structured method for reviewing the work.” Within the assessment was a sample of the specific feedback guidelines that students were required to follow. Areas they were instructed to evaluate were organization and development, reasoning and focus consistency, language appropriateness, and standard grammar. Dr. Ralph Fehr, a professor at USF who implemented these guidelines observed “substantial improvement in the organization and structure” of students’ essays, as well as “an increased level of collaboration and interaction among the students” ("Assessment Brief from the Office of Academic Assessment, USF"). While there are still many aspects of the process that must be fine-tuned and re-evaluated, peer review has proven to aid students in the modern classroom by allowing them to collaborate and interact within their own discourse community.

Because of the skillful interaction and analytical thinking that will take place, there is a clear advantage when implementing peer review or any element that stems from collaborative learning. When instructors are “attempting to successfully use instructional methods that capitalize on peer learning,” they “need to give special attention to problems associated with differences in status among peers in order to maximize learning outcomes for low-achieving students” (Gabriele and Montecinos 153). There are many ways to approach peer learning techniques, and Gabriele and Montecinos “examine the effect of achievement goals on low achievers’ participation and learning from collaborative problem solving with a high-achieving peer” (153). Gabriele and Montecinos refute structured interaction and propose “an intervention aimed at creating equal-status interaction among students that targets students’ expectations and perceptions of competence” (154). In other words, instructors could “choose ill-structured tasks that require a wide range of skills so that talents of a greater number of students can be incorporated into group work” (Gabriele and Montecinos 154). Research shows there are students with a “learning goal” or students who “are characterized as oriented toward trying to understand their work, improving their level of competence, and using self-reference standards rather than social comparisons to judge the quality of their work” as opposed to the students with a “performance goal” who are “concerned with either appearing competent or avoiding looking incompetent to others” (Gabriele and Monecinos 154). In a collaborative environment, “low-achievement-status “ students might “focus on aspects of the task critical to learning...asking questions, contributing ideas, and/or soliciting feedback” (157).

Peer Review and ESL Students

In their article “Peer Review Negotiations: Revision Activities in ESL Writing Instruction,” Mendonca and Johnson reference the Vygotskyian framework, which implies that “language use, whether written or oral, is a deeply rooted social act, [and] peer interactions bring together the cognitive and social aspects of language, allowing peers to construct meaning within the context of social interaction.” It is this social interaction has been found to be “critical in second language acquisition and cognitive growth” (Mendonca and Johnson 746).

While peer editing can be a challenging technique to apply in a composition classroom where the majority of students are native English speakers, the application of peer review in the ESL classroom presents a different set of variables to consider. A study by Mangelsdort and Schlumberger revealed that when engaging in peer review, L2 students assumed a “prescriptive stance, expecting their peers’ text to follow a prescribed form.” In addition, L2 students seemed to focus mainly on “surface errors while ignoring broader areas of content” (Mendonca and Johnson 747). For these reasons, conclusions have been made that writing instructors need to carefully instruct, guide, and oversee the peer review process with L2 students.

Mendonca and Johnson conclude their article with a section devoted to the post interviews of 12 ESL students who participated in a peer review workshop. All 12 students stated that they found the peer review process to be extremely helpful. They agreed that “having another person read their drafts helped them see points that were clear in their essays and points that needed revision” (Mendonca and Johnson 764). In addition, some students reported that they enjoyed the process because they learned new ideas about language and writing from their ESL peers, which supports the beneficial framework of the Vygotskyian method.

Should L2 Learners use L1 in Peer Review?
In the Spring of 2000, Maria C. M De Guerro and Olga S. Villamil, published an article entitled "Activating the ZPD: Mutual Scaffolding in L2 Peer Revision." Drawing from Vygotsky's works, his "concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) served as the theoretical basis for the study of peer collaboration in the ESL writing classroom"(p. 54). They studied the effects of peer revision between two L2 (L1 Spanish) learners in a college writing classroom. For the purpose of this study, the authors have changed the characteristics of the traditional scaffolding metaphor (expert to novice) to that of two novice writers completing a revision task collaboratively. The dialogue was recorded and moment to moment changes were noted. De Guerro and Villamil found that when given a bare bones scaffolding, the students intuitively knew the ZDP and encouraged one another through humor, direction, and a genuine interest in the content. The result was a scaffolding that was mutual rather than unidirectional.

The revision piece was a first draft of a narrative essay written by one of the students. The author was asked first to read the essay aloud thus promoting ownership of voice and providing verbal cues, expressions, and body language not present otherwise. The students were given the revision sheet to take notes or make written comments and were encouraged to focus first on content and organization and then on language use and mechanics. The students spoke in Spanish when it was necessary to illustrate a point, the use of which the authors found both productive and necessary to the overall success of the revision and the learning taking place. The authors concluded that, "consistently, the studies show that collaborative stances are more productive than authoritative or prescriptive attitudes [in the L2 learner]" (p. 56).

Nelson Graff and Peer Review
Nelson Graff, who teaches in the English department at San Francisco State, advocates the teaching of peer review through thinking and reading aloud. Throughout the course of a unit, he models how the author describes an issue or what type of language is utilized in order to connect with a reader. Following his modeling, students are paired up in groups and do the same. With his read-aloud protocol workshop, students work in pairs and read their essays. At the conclusion of the readings, reader and writer discuss the paper then switch. While reading, the reader stops after every sentence and at the end of each paragraph and the reader is feel to start, stop and reread as many times as necessary in order to make sense of what is being communicated. The writer in turn goes over the draft as it is being read and makes notes on the draft where clarity is lost and any other issues that come up. The writer may not speak to the reader until the reading is completed. After the readings are completed, the pair enter into a conference and discuss both papers and offer suggestions as how to clean it up (Graff 84). This is offered as an alternative to the silent reading of a peer's paper and talk-aloud offers the author an opportunity to hear the composition read through the voice of another in order that one may encounter potential lapses in communication.

More Short Comings
Although Peer Review is a very useful tool it has its downsides. The major issues are simple difference of opinions, time added to the writing process and the perception of lack of ability and/or knowledge of the instructor. A well written paper may receive negative peer reviews, due to a disagreement with the crux of the paper, or vice versa. (Price pg 3) A paper written on a subjective issue, specifically a controversial one, is subject to a positive or negative peer review, solely on the basis of content and not on content and context combined. In the academic arena, an instructor must take into account the extra time needed for; the review and the following revisions. This can add an additional class period or two required for the assignment, and therefore an instructor must adjust their deadlines, accordingly. Another factor that instructors must take into mind is the possible students’ perception that the instructor is lacking in ability and/or knowledge. Therefore, an instructor must take either an active or passive role during the peer review process. An instructor that is readily available to answer questions, allows for the students to interact in their own discourse community, and demonstrates ability and knowledge, to the students.


Source:
Berkenkotter, Carol. " Student Writers and Their Sense of Authority over Texts." College Composition and Communication. 35.3 (1984): 312-319.

Bruffee, Kenneth A. "Collaborative Learning and the Conversation of Mankind" From The Norton Book of Composition Studies. ed. Susan Miller. W.W. Norton
& Company: New York, 2009. pp. 547, 560.

Gabriele, Anthony J. and Carmen Montecinos. “Collaborating with a Skilled Peer: The Influence of Achievement Goals and Perceptions of Partners’
Competence on the Participation and Learning of Low-Achieving Students.” The Journal of Experimental Education 69.2 (Winter 2001): 152-178. Web. 14 Oct. 2009.

Graff, Nelson. "Approaching Authentic Peer Review". English Journal. 98.5 (May 2009). 81-7.
Hall, Mark. "The Politics of Peer Response." The Writing Instructor. 2009. http://www.writinginstructor.com/hall (2 October 2009).

De Guerrero, Maria C. M. and Villamil,Olga S. "Activating the ZPD: Mutual Scaffolding in L2 Peer Revision". The Modern Language Journal , Vol. 84, No. 1 (Spring, 2000), pp. 51-68. Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the National Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations

Mendonca, Cassia O., and Karen E. Johnson. "Peer Review Negotiations: Revision Activities in ESL Writing Instruction." TESOL Quarterly 28.4 (1994): 745-769. Web. 7 Nov 2009.

Nilson, Linda B. "Improving Peer Feedback." College Teaching 51.1 (Winter 2003): 34-38. Web. 2 Oct. 2009.

"Peer Review of Student Writing Examined." Assessment Brief from the Office of Academic Assessment, USF 6 October 2006: Print.
Price, Rebecca. "An Analysis of the Pros and Cons of Peer Review for Art Documentation
." http://www.arlisna.org/news/peerreview.pdf 2006




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