I was introduced to peer review many years ago, when I first began seeking feedback on my own writing. The protocol we used was a lot less formal than the peer review we currently participate in at Communities for Learning though, and as a result, I don’t feel it was nearly as effective. Many people find that adhering to a pretty tight protocol elicits better feedback, and while it’s not uncommon to approach peer review with a bit of trepidation, when all is said and done, most people walk away with a variety of insights that enable them to improve their work.
Last summer, I had a hunch that approaching peer review with middle and high school Studio writers in a similar fashion would enable them to build community while thinking deeply about writer’s craft and process. I wanted peer review to enrich their expertise as writers and as readers who could offer criteria-based feedback to others (rubrics help a great deal with this). Defining and modeling what the experience looks like seemed to help a great deal. So much so that over the last year, the majority of middle and high school Studio writers have named this opportunity as their favorite way for us to spend our time together. We’ve added a peer review group to our community ning this year, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see quite a bit of steady activity in there since our summer sessions wrapped.
This summer, Studio interns worked with me to make this process accessible for very young students. In addition to defining and modeling the process, we created a template that allowed younger writers to capture their thinking in words or pictures as they prepared to give warm and cool feedback. Then, I pulled on a literacy coaching strategy first defined by Katherine Casey in Literacy Coaching: The Essentials. Kasey encourages coaches to “push pause” during instruction, in order to provide teachers and students time to reflect on their process as learners, the work they are doing, and how they can improve their practice immediately, rather than waiting to reflect during a lesson debrief. As young writers made their first attempts at sharing their work, asking for specific types of feedback, and formulating criteria-based observations to share with others, Studio interns sat within their circles observing and “pushing pause” during important teachable moments. This, combined with a modified approach, enabled even our youngest writers to participate in peer review successfully. Another teacher in our program, Kristin Smith, modified the process further, and you can take a peek at her work right here. I actually prefer this to my own, and I think we will use it in the future.
If you use peer review with your own students, I’d love for you to share your process here as well. I know that there are different ways to approach this, and I’d love to learn more.