Academic journal article English Journal

Which Helps Writers More, Receiving Peer Feedback or Giving It?

Academic journal article English Journal

Which Helps Writers More, Receiving Peer Feedback or Giving It?

Article excerpt

Action research begins with a problem that needs attention. In multiple sections of Advanced Placement (AP) English Literature and Composition, Sarah and her students drafted practice AP essays regularly. Sarah soon felt overwhelmed by giving feedback on student writing. Making matters worse, Sarah observed herself giving the same comments again and again-to the same students. Students' scores were not improving even though she was delivering well-researched best practices: modeling the writing process, facilitating oral discussion prior to writing, and inviting lots of writing practice. At the end of her second year teaching the course, Sarah added peer response to that list.

Organizing peer response takes some effort. Sarah asked students to study and discuss the College Board rubric, read and discuss "anchor papers" (essays designated by the College Board as below expectation, at expectation, and above expectation), and then score and give feedback to their classmates. Something new did seem to happen. One of her students exclaimed, "Huh, I totally get that you need to include quotes now! That's why I wasn't scoring well." At her desk, Sarah quietly beat her head against the wall, knowing that she had given exactly that feedback to that specific student on more than one occasion. It seemed that peer response was worth the organizational trouble and instruction time. Indeed, she wondered whether peer response might be the solution to both of her problems-not enough time or energy to give every student individual feedback, and not much effectiveness to the expert feedback that she had been delivering.


Fortunately, questions like Sarah's are celebrated in the National Writing Project. During the 2014-15 school year, we, Sarah and Lindsay, worked together in a Writing Project Teacher Inquiry Institute (LMWP TI2). Sarah began studying the existing research on peer feedback, added peer feedback consistently to her teaching, took notes, and began collaborating with Lindsay to design a method of studying its effects.

Theoretical Framework

Peer response has proponents and skeptics. Proponents argue that a systematic approach to peer feedback has a positive impact on student performance (Topping). They encourage educators to see peer feedback, when compared to expert feedback, as equally beneficial (Birkeland), if not more beneficial (Cho and MacArthur; Topping). Skeptics raise concerns over the accuracy of peer feedback (Liu and Carless). They suggest that scores awarded by peers are often unreliable (Topping). In their 2007 study, Eric J. Paulson et al. note the lack of scientific or quantitative research on the impact peer feedback has on the growth of students' writing ability. Similarly, two separate reviews of the literature and research on peer review, by Keith Topping and Marjo van Zundert et al., acknowledge that little research has been done on key concepts related to peer feedback, including whether learners are able to transfer skills learned to both future related tasks or to other classes and content areas, and whether the gains observed through peer feedback are the result of giving peer feedback or of receiving peer feedback. When Sarah and Lindsay reviewed this research with their network of National Writing Project Teacher Consultants, they found this last question particularly intriguing.

Three months into the school year, one of Sarah's students, whom we will call Rory, submitted his rough draft on time but was absent during the class periods in which students read each other's drafts and provided feedback. As a result, Rory completed all of the writing, received feedback from his peers, but did not give any peer feedback. When reviewing students' scores on their rough drafts and revised drafts, Sarah made a note that Rory's final draft did not score any higher than his rough draft, despite the revisions that he made in response to the feedback from his peers.

Sarah brought this observation to her colleagues. …

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