Facilitating peer workshops for writing assignments results in several benefits: they improve students’ writing and they make grading more efficient.
The most important benefit of peer workshops comes from students helping each other. This promotes hands-on learning and enables students to receive different feedback. An additional benefit of these workshops is that, by reading and evaluating other essays, students also see different essays, which can result in a different form of learning.
For the instructor, peer workshops can make grading written assignments quicker and easier. One of the main benefits comes from addressing and correcting minor errors that you would rather not have to. For example, if a workshop can facilitate all of the essays being in the proper format, this is one less aspect needing comments during grading.
Direct the feedback: Remind students what is most important for the particular assignment and what they, as reviewers, should focus on. Provide handouts to direct the comments (example of a student peer review workshop sheet) instead of leaving the comments to student interpretation.
Assign a point value: Making participation a part of the class grade insures better attendance and participation. For example, require all students to bring a full draft of the assignment being evaluated, and provide detailed and well thought-out feedback that will also be graded.
Give students something tangible to take: Instead of just requiring verbal comments or short marks on the actual paper, have
student reviewers fill out an evaluation sheet that the writer can take home. This
allows the writer to have specific comments for revision.
View an example of a student peer review workshop sheet.
Keep it student-led: Your students likely receive lots of feedback from you during the writing process. Allow the workshop to be a time where they receive feedback from other students instead of from you. Only get involved if absolutely necessary.
The main key to a successful workshop is providing structure for the feedback that is given. You can’t just assume that all students will offer sound advice to their peers. Instead, direct the advice that is being given by providing the criteria to be evaluated and the proper means of delivering this criteria.
Round Robin: This type of workshop involves rotating essays frequently in larger groups, perhaps even with the entire class. The goal is to quickly address one aspect of the essay before passing and moving to another aspect. For example, you can begin with a check of the format, then pass the essay and review the title and spacing, then pass again and check for the thesis, etc.
Small Group: Small group workshops allow for more focus on specific essays and the overall content. Keeping these groups small allows for students to review several different essays and receive review from several people, while still providing in-depth feedback.
Partner: Putting students into groups of two allows for significant in-depth discussion and feedback. The downside, however, is that because students are given only one partner, the quality of the feedback they receive is entirely dependent on their particular partner. Therefore, the partner workshop works better for more advanced classes and assignments.
5 minute workshops: Instead of devoting a significant portion of a class, or even an entire class, to conducting a peer workshop, several quick workshops can be held at the beginning or end of several class periods. The goal of these workshops is to focus on something quick and specific each time (i.e. proper format, citations, thesis statements, one-body paragraph, etc.).