I am a strong proponent of peer editing. The
benefits of peer editing are numerous, and before any teacher sees an essay, it should have been peer edited at least once. It is crucial, however, that students know how to peer edit, and why.
1) Students must know what is wrong, often before they can get it right. By having students learn the steps of the writing process, the elements necessary for a good essay, and what kinds of things are important to include (or leave out) of a well-written essay, they can then apply that knowledge to their own writing. By having students edit and evaluate poor, mistake-ridden writing, they learn to train their eyes on what they don’t want to do in their own essays. As students see and evaluate essays that are missing essential elements or are full of errors (topic sentences, sentences that don’t make sense, etc.), they can see the reasons behind avoiding these errors. The worse the essay is, the more students can “catch.” The more they do this, the more they realize that their own writing “isn’t so bad!” That does not mean that students should be exposed to another student’s “bad” essay. Instead, use non-model essays, such as those from previous years’ classes as examples (be sure to block out names).
2) Students should take an active role in the community process of writing. Too often, teachers and students work in an isolated environment, where student writes essay and teacher grades essay. An opportunity is missed in this environment: the opportunity for students to read more, have conversations about writing, and learn from each other. By having students participate in the peer editing process, students take an active interest in each other’s writing, and root for them when their essay comes back from the teacher at the end. By hearing from another student, they learn that they are not being “lectured to,” but that another person—someone their own age—can grasp and use these concepts,
and therefore, these goals don’t seem so far out of reach for their own writing. With only the teachers’ perspective, the student can unfortunately feel as if the writing environment is a “me against her” scenario.
3) Students cannot write in a vacuum. It is essential for students to get feedback from someone other than an adult, often to really hear what they are doing right and wrong. By integrating peer editors into the process, students are hearing (in an ideal environment) several points of view, which improves their communication about the writing process, their engagement with the students (and therefore, the world) around them, and they are able to garner different perspectives from students of varied ability levels and backgrounds. Once students feel confident in a classroom that promotes a comfortable learning environment for making mistakes together, students can feel safe to take more risks in their writing and sharing their ideas and personal perspectives with others. Your students have varied backgrounds and knowledge levels. Use them! Encourage your students to use their own background knowledge and world perspectives to offer insight into that student’s essay about Divorce from a Child’s Perspective, or another student’s essay, Avoiding Procrastination, or another student’s essay dealing with The Themes of Of Mice and Men after reading the book in class!
4) The more students are actively engaged in something, the better they learn it. According to the Learning Pyramid developed by the NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science in Virginia, learners retain 90% of what they learn when they teach someone else/use immediately, 75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned, and 50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion. By engaging in peer editing (if done correctly) your students are sure to learn! Ah, there’s the rub: doing it correctly! Students MUST be taught what they are to look for when peer editing, how to engage in relevant and sensitive discussion, and how to constructively criticize. This process must be taught after students learn what is actually supposed to go into an essay, and you as the teacher must take an active role in making sure students are trained to know what to look for, and that students are on task with the editing and discussions. Should students be looking for the connection of overall ideas? Should students be looking for punctuation and spelling errors? Should students be commenting on the essay’s position or ideas? What they look for is up to the teacher, and students need to have a clear goal in mind when they sit down with their editor’s pen.
5) Less paperwork for the teacher! Sounds great, right? By having students peer edit, this cuts down on the amount of work you have to do correcting minor, mundane mistakes, and allows you to focus on the bigger picture: fostering great writers. However, don’t think you can just sit back at your desk. In order for a peer editing program to be effective, you must be an active facilitator. This means that students must be monitored. By walking around the classroom, you will be actively involved in the process, and can ask students why they made that comment, or how they feel about the issue, or why they feel the essay is lacking, or what they feel the essay does well. Once students realize you take the peer editing process as a serious element of the essay writing process, they will begin to take pride in their own opinions. They will begin to feel confident in their own abilities, and learn to see more ways that they can improve their own writing. Once students are able to really learn from, and help each other, this will take enormous pressure off you, freeing up your time for one-on-one writing conferences, individualized attention, and creating differentiated lessons.
Do you use peer editing? What else do students garner from the process? Please share!