Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Benefits of Attending a Peer Review Workshop at the UCWbL

by Steffanie Triller Fry

‘Twas World Series Game Seven
When all through DePaul
Not a creature was stirring
They were watching the Cubbies “PLAY BALL!”

That is, except for the unfortunate members of my Fall 2016 Writing for Competence class. It just so happened that the night I had scheduled my class to attend a Peer Review Workshop at the University Center for Writing-basedLearning coincided with the inimitable Game Seven of the 2016 World Series. Nevertheless, we pressed on, and nine of my students and I cocooned ourselves in the 16th floor of the Lewis Building with our workshop coordinator and writing center tutor, Katie.

Katie began by sharing with us a few brief slides about what peer feedback is and why it is helpful. She also handed out a half-sheet of paper to each student that offered guidelines for peer review. Interestingly, the suggestions for student deportment in a peer review session strongly mirrored what one would expect from an adult employee providing feedback to another employee in an annual review. This resonated with my students, all full-time employees at one of the city’s financial institutions.

They took the half-sheets and dispersed around the room in groups of three. One student in each group began reading aloud while the other two students listened or jotted down comments on a copy of their classmate’s paper. Katie and I hovered as my students held their peers (and us) captive with their words. At one point, Katie and I found ourselves hovering over the same group as a female student read her appeal to an Illinois Congressman to introduce legislation that would provide feminine products gratis to homeless women. When the student writer noticed us hovering, Katie smiled. “I’m so interested in your topic,” she said. The student beamed.

Around the rooms of the Writing Center, other students were similarly captivating their audiences with words. Conversation ensued as the students served as one another’s audience. Katie kept a time clock and reminded groups when it was time to switch readers.

Research has found that peer review sessions benefit students as both givers and receivers of feedback on their written work. When students use a drafting process and receive feedback from peers and an instructor, they are more likely to revise their work for meaning, rather than mere surface-level errors (Paulus). Moreover, giving peer feedback on written writing assignments can actually be more helpful to a student’s own writing than receiving feedback from a peer (Lundstrom and Baker). For these reasons, writing instructors often build peer review sessions into their courses. But, as scholars who share work with their peers know well, peer review sessions can benefit writers in all disciplines (Beason). And, luckily, the UCWbL is glad to host a peer review workshop in the course of any instructor who requests one on their website.

Later, when we reconvened together as a group, the student who had moved us most with her words about blood and cold and homelessness raised her hand. She shared with the group that before this peer review session she did not understand what her essay needed, but now she knew. Another student and said that even though he had done peer review in class before, this session had been incredibly helpful.

The students dashed out of the Writing Center to catch the final game of an incomparable series that would linger past midnight. But, before the curse of the Billy Goat would be broken by the Lovable Losers, these writers broke their own kind of curse on the 16th floor of the Lewis Building on a rainy Chicago night. They no longer feared sharing their written work.  

Happy peer review to all, and to all, a good night!

The DePaul Writing Center schedules workshops on Peer Review, Citation, Digication, and other customized topics. To schedule a workshop, visit the UCWbL website.

Works Cited

Beason, Larry. “Feedback and Revision in Writing across the Curriculum Classes.” Research in the Teaching of English, vol. 27, no. 4, 1993, pp. 395–422.

Lundstrom, Kristi, and Wendy Baker. "To give is better than to receive: The benefits of peer review to the reviewer's own writing." Journal of second language writing 18.1 (2009): 30-43.

Paulus, Trena M. "The effect of peer and teacher feedback on student writing." Journal of second language writing 8.3 (1999): 265-289.

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