The effectiveness of peer review in English sessions

In an English session based on Creative Writing, one of the best techniques I found to improve the student’s standard of work was Group Peer Review. I’d tried Peer Review before, but I wanted to make the process of review more transparent and productive.

I gave the students the brief; write two paragraphs on being shipwrecked on a desert island, describing the shipwreck itself and the immediate aftermath. I gave them 25 minutes to complete the brief. Once the time was up, I instructed everyone to pass their sheets to the left then read the story and write below it one constructive criticism and one piece of positive feedback. This was repeated until the three students had seen all the stories. We then came back as a group and discussed each person’s work in turn as well as the criticisms and suggestions. This allowed us to discuss why people had made the criticisms they did as well as the process by which improvements could be made.

On reflection I would only suggest doing this exercise with groups that you feel were mature enough to handle the critique aspect and who would see the exercise as being beneficial for their own academic advancement. I’m conscious that some pupils would be unable to criticise another’s work without being somewhat churlish. I was clear to explain that the only acceptable comments would be those made in good faith and based on the end result of ‘adding value’. As it transpired, they made good use of the opportunity to think critically about each other’s work with only improvements in mind. I would guide the discussions by posing questions about certain elements of each story such as use of figurative speech or sentence structure.

In the following session they rewrote their pieces taking into account the suggestions given previously. This time I took the stories away to mark and was able to notice a definite improvement. After speaking with the students, they said the opportunity to think through suggestions for the other pupil’s work had made it easier to critique their own by being able to step back and view it objectively.