There’s advice and there are activities that can help develop students’ abilities to offer constructive feedback and use the feedback they receive from peers to more accurately self-assess and improve their work. Those aren’t skills that college students today widely possess, but they’re skills that can be taught and ones that will serve students well in the years ahead. The advice and activities recommended below can be adjusted to accommodate peer review of written work, projects, and performances. If students aren’t strong in these skills areas, it’s best to develop them incrementally.
Offer peer review skill instruction. In an interesting study, Min (2006) worked on skill development in class and provided feedback on each student’s first set of peer-review comments. After that training, peer-triggered revisions accounted for 90 percent of the changes students made, which was significantly higher than the changes triggered by peers before the training.
Provide peer-review opportunities. The best place to begin may be by finding out how much experience students have doing peer review, how comfortable they are with the process, and whether they understand its value. Without that knowledge, it’s hard to design activities that begin building skills that students need. It’s also good to begin with realistic expectations. If students haven’t done much peer review, there are lots of reasons to expect their first attempts to be less than splendid.
Recognize and take advantage of how giving feedback develops self-assessment skills. Research strongly suggests that giving feedback increases students’ abilities to more accurately judge their own work. Some of the best work on this outcome has been done by Royce Sadler. I’ve highlighted it here, here, and here. As students use criteria to review a peer’s work, in the back of their minds they’re applying the same criteria to their own work. Sadler actually proposes that this reflective analysis is more significant than the feedback peers provide and receive. White and Kirby (2005) report that’s what their students said about a peer-review activity in an upper-division undergraduate course.
Encourage self-assessment. It’s tough for students to share thoughts about their work with a teacher. From the student’s perspective, telling the teacher that the work is good and then finding that the teacher didn’t think so is embarrassing. At the same time, if the student confesses that parts of the assignment need more work, maybe that will bias the teacher’s assessment.
Cathey, C. (2007). Power of peer review: An online collaborative learning assignment in social psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 34(2), 97–99. https://doi.org/10.1080/00986280701291325
Jhangiani, R. S. (2016). The impact of participating in a peer assessment activity on subsequent academic performance. Teaching of Psychology, 43(3), 180–186. https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628316649312
Min, H.-T. (2006). The effects of trained peer review on EFL students’ revision types and writing quality. Journal of Second Language Writing, 15(2), 118–141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jslw.2006.01.003
Nilson, L. B. (2003). Improving student peer feedback. College Teaching, 51(1), 34–38. https://doi.org/10.1080/87567550309596408
White, T. L., & Kirby, B. J. (2005). ’Tis better to give than receive: An undergraduate peer review project. Teaching of Psychology, 32(4), 259–261.