Planning Peer Review for Students

July 15th, 2021

View from across: Two male and two female students working and collaborating in front of laptop. One female students reaching over and moving the cursor on laptop. Students are smiling.

Contributed by CTL staff

(4 minute read)

When students develop their capacity to give and receive feedback—and to use that feedback to revise their work—they are empowered in multiple ways. They learn to engage with peers while also claiming their own authority, and to make choices about how to integrate feedback into their revision and learning processes. They learn, in other words, what we as faculty and scholars have long recognized: that academic work is a social process intertwined with an awareness of discipline, genre, and purpose. 

But peer review is a challenging process. While students generally recognize its potential value, their experience tends to vary between useful and useless, helpful and hurtful. Instructors often worry about logistics (e.g., assigning groups), student accountability, and power dynamics in student groups. Given these complications, here are some points of departure as you consider your peer review plans.

  • Invite students to reflect on previous experience. Before you present your plan for peer review, let students reflect on their experience with peer review or group work. Use a whiteboard (digital or not) to track experiences and draw connections. Explain how the review process can account for these experiences by extending what has been useful for students (e.g., forging connections with peers) or by reframing or limiting what has not been useful (e.g., vague praise). 
  • Align the peer review guidelines with your grading scheme and learning outcomes. Make this alignment explicit so that students can see the linkages between what the assignment requires and how the review process complements those requirements. Ensure that students understand why you are asking them to do peer review and how it will benefit them. 
  • Credit student authority and plan for inclusivity. Regardless of your peer review plan, students may doubt their own authority to give feedback, since they may see themselves in a hierarchical relationship where instructors are authorized to give feedback and students are not. This could lead students to ignore their peers’ feedback.

    In other cases, students may situate themselves as teacher surrogates, creating a problematic relationship with their peers. Such a relationship may also reflect larger patterns of social discrimination around language, racial formation, gender, culture, class, or previous educational experience. We recommend pushing against these dynamics by showing students why they are creditable reviewers.

    • Emphasize that all careful feedback by all peers is valuable because it reflects the unique experience of a reader.
    • Model a focus on big ideas and key questions, not small errors in form or content, as the latter will be the default mode for many students, especially those without much practice giving feedback.  
    • Remind students that they are well-positioned to give guidance on how the work responds to the assignment.
    • Highlight how students benefit when they see how others have chosen to respond to the assignment.

For more on inclusive pedagogy in the feedback process, see the Writing Program’s Additional Resources on peer-to-peer work. This resource includes information applicable to many other disciplinary contexts.

  • Plan for alternate modes and timing of feedback. Some students will want more time to complete their reviews, will be absent or late, or will prefer to communicate in different ways. Make space, for example, for written as well as verbal feedback, synchronous as well as asynchronous feedback. If peer review will be a relatively quick process (e.g., one homework assignment and one class period), think about how to make use of that time. Fewer questions and clear guidelines will help. If you want students to revise based on feedback, be mindful about how much time they need to meaningfully use the comments they have received.

  • Consider technology. OneNote, Turnitin, and Blackboard support peer review for larger classes. Abbas Attarwala, lecturer in computer science in CAS, uses OneNote to let students pose questions about their programming assignments and then invite other students to comment. Other well-regarded technologies include Eli Review, Peerceptive, and Perusall.

Remember that peer feedback is a skill that students develop over time. Encourage this development by asking students to make explicit how the feedback process has affected their revisions and their sense of themselves as learners and creators. The research suggests that the more students practice peer feedback, the more they value it as a way to engage with their peers and with their own creative process.