When I told a group of my Mass Media & Society students last semester that it was “peer review time,” my enthusiasm was met with groans — not because my students didn’t want to receive peer feedback, but because some just weren’t ready. In that moment, I realized that I hadn’t been treating my students like real writers when I assigned strict “you will all do peer review on this day/at this time” schedules.
In theory, all students should work hard on their essays outside of class (particularly if they missed class) to catch up to their strongest peers. However, this doesn’t always happen in practice. A few of my students were done with their first drafts and wanted feedback so they could begin revising, some students were unprepared, and a few students were technically were ready, but were in a writing groove and didn’t want me to interrupt their writing process.
I decided to let go.
I asked who would appreciate a peer review session. Three students said “yes, please, I need more ideas.” I gave them peer review materials, and they assiduously got to work reading each other’s drafts and writing comments. The next day when we moved to the library to type out/revise/continue drafting our essays, I put reminder peer review directions on a table, pulled up three chairs, put a packet of sticky notes on a table and said “if you’re ready for peer review, then join the table.” I had more takers. On the second day that we were in the library, another group was ready.
The takeaway? Flexible peer review gives students more choice; it treats them like real writers who are in tune with their own writing process. My students reported that they got good feedback from their peers, and they enjoyed the fact that they were given choice. If I had pushed for peer review on The Day I Had Planned, I would have alienated some students. It certainly wouldn’t have resulted in better peer review.