Thursday, September 10, 2015


Peer Reviews with Technology

Picture By: Brett Gosselin
Peer reviewing is nothing new. I've been doing it since I was a child and using it with my students since my first year of teaching. However, I get asked a LOT from many teachers, "How do you do it?" I've done it many different ways over the years.

In the past students would have to come into the class with two copies of their paper. I would randomly pass out the papers to the students. If they didn't bring in copies, they didn't get to participate and instead would sit in an "essay writing corner" working on their essay. There would be a worksheet of questions passed out, or maybe the questions were displayed on the overhead. Students, armed with colored pens would then answer the questions as they reviewed the essay. Sometimes this would include specific directions (highlight the thesis, underline the opinion, etc.)

There's nothing wrong with doing it this way (and I could go into more details about it if anyone is interested) but now, like with a lot of things, technology has changed the way I do this.

Before we get into that, let's start at the beginning.

Editing is something that teachers often take for granted. Since we know how to spot mistakes, we assume students can do this as well. After all, if they have learned what we taught them, shouldn't they be able to catch mistakes other students make?

Well, maybe. But for the most part students require some coaching in this matter. Modeling is an easy way to do this, as is having students practice in small groups. Here are some technological tools I use to help my students refine their inner editor (at the end of each suggestion I also give a brief low-tech/no-tech option). I am assuming you are at least vaguely familiar with these sites. If you aren't or are interested on a post on the basics of one of the sites I mention, leave me a comment and I'll put something together for you.

I strongly encourage using "real" examples from students (past or present) as it has really made a difference with my students.
Take a screen shot of a sentence (or make a PowerPoint slide and upload it as a graphic) and use it in Kahoot as a picture. Have the question be identifying the error. The answers would be different possibilities. For example, my students are working on thesis statements, so some issues may be: Using personal language, Not being specific Not having an opinion, Not having an explanation.

Alternatively, label different sentences (1,2,3,4) and have students pick the best thesis statement. Be sure to have the, "automatically move through questions" turned OFF. You want to use the time immediately after questions to have students explain why they selected what they did and why.

No Tech? Years and years ago, we did the exact same thing with teachers who would have these paragraphs on overhead projects, now you can make a PowerPoint game, if you are low-tech, or a packet for no-tech.

Most teachers I know use Socrative for quizzes or the Space Race. Those are both really awesome tools, but not my favorite part of Socrative is the "Quick Question"

Simply select, "Quick Question" and then "Short Answer." Write an essay prompt in the question blank. I want each student to write only one response and I want their names (so they are held accountable). You can also have them work in small groups and have each group submit one thesis statement. As the results start coming in, you, as the teacher, can monitor and remove any that may seem inappropriate.

Once the time is up (or all students have submitted their attempt) then click "Start Vote" At this point the students will be able to see all of the thesis statements and vote for the ones they like best. Once the vote has closed discuss why the class selected the winner as the winner. Find the one with the least votes, what was wrong with it? This requires very little prep and is anonymous (to the students) so you tend to get authentic responses.

No Tech: Have students write sentences on the board and then discuss them after.

Haiku Discussions
Different options for Haiku discussions
I use Haiku because my school provides it to me, but any discussion board would work find (BlackBoard, etc.) Haiku does offer a free solo teacher plan! You get five classes. More information here

These are great because you have options. You can put students in pre-assigned groups (this can be a great way to differentiate), as a whole class, or individually.

Depending on how you have it set up, you can post a sample paragraph and have students critique it. Then they can take it the next step and re-write it. This is nice because if you are putting them in small groups or as a whole class, the shyer students can "speak up" without actually needing to speak, and the students who don't quite get it can go at their own pace and see what everyone else wrote first (unless of course you want them to take a guess first, in which case click the "Require students to post first" button).

You're also taking it past just identifying issues and seeing if students can actually fix them. Often at this point it is helpful to have a checklist of sorts students can go through to find errors.  This list should probably change depending on what you are focusing on, but I know some teachers who keep the same list throughout (normally elementary when they are focusing on key skills). The list can be mechanics, grammar, or specific to whatever you are teaching. I tend to encourage a mix of question types: Yes/No, Scale, and Open Ended. You'll be surprised at the answers sometimes.
  • Does every sentence start with a capital letter? (Mechanics)
  • Does the first sentence grab your attention? (Essay Format)
  • Does the essay make sense to you? Why or Why not? (Opinion)
  • What suggestions could you give the writer? (Really Open Ended)
Sidenote: Haiku Discussion boards are also really easy to grade. After the discussion closes I just pull up the list and I can see (by student) who wrote what. Normally I give a flat participation grade (they did it: full points), but I do make sure to skim to point out particularly good comments.

No Tech? You can of course do this in small groups as well without the technology. Pass out copies of the paragraph have them set the tables together and answer a set of questions as a team. Share their answers with the class, and then write a fixed version of the paragraph individually

PeerMark / TurnItIn

Two years ago I posted about free plagiarism checkers. That's how most people know TurnItIn. However, as much as I do use TurnItIn now, I actually LOVE them for their PeerMark grading. Never used it? You should check it out!

This is the "bigger" assignment. The first time we do this I jump in with full essays, though you can always have students start by just reviewing paragraphs or even sentences if you want!

There may be free versions out there (if you know any leave a comment, and I'll add it here), but I've only ever used Peermark.

Students turn in their papers the night before or morning of. You CAN have them turn the papers in the first thing in class, and just select, "randomly assign." Peermark will randomly give your students different essays and you're set. However, I prefer having some time to look over them.

You also have the option of going through and assigning them. For example, I teach many ESL students. In most cases I want students looking at the paper of someone who doesn't speak their language. For example, Spanish speakers to look at Chinese speakers' essays. This helps them because speakers of the language tend to make the same mistakes. Sometimes they even use words that they think are OK, but really don't exist. Just the other day I had a student tell me, "I hope you understand my Chinglish." So when I get to pick the pairs I can make sure the student will get the most help possible.

Depending on the student I may also want them to grade the paper of someone who write really well. This way they get to see a good model, and it tends to be easier for them to mark (less errors). 

I can also exclude papers. For example, in the class I'm teaching right now one of my students has completely copy and pasted his entire essay from the website online. I don't want anyone else to peer review this.

Finally, my FAVORITE part of using PeerMark. When I did these on paper if you didn't come in with your essay, you didn't get points. You also didn't review another student's paper. I LOVE peer reviewing and think it is a GREAT learning experience. With PeerMark I just need to check the box, "Allow students without a paper to review" and I am set! They don't miss out!! Though they don't get the help of having their paper peer edited.

As for grading, you can make this as hands off as you want or fairly specific. I make a list of questions my students go through as they grade. As with the list mentioned in the discussion boards, it changes a bit with each essay. This is shown on the screen as the students mark. In this example to below, the questions are mainly scale based (5 being awesome, 1 being needs a lot of work). Students answer the question and then leave comments on the paper if needed. For example, in this one I asked a question about the "Author Work Tie" and "Does it mention the author, title of the work, type of work, and how it connects to the thesis statement?" This student-editor gave the student-writer a 2/5 and then left a comment about how the summary was too long. She also answered #5 "Overall how good is the introduction" by saying, "the introduction does tells [sic] me what the rest of the essay is going to be about but the Author, work, tie is very confusing"

I love peer editing. I really really do. Students learn to see what they're seeing in other papers on their own. Its really easy for me to say, "okay don't do that, this, or the other thing," but students don't usually learn that way. I can take it up the net step, "Let's all do this together. What did we do wrong?" But when students actually have the question in front of them and then can find the examples on their own it really takes them to the next level on Bloom's Taxonomy.

It makes them think! They also catch a lot of little things that I always find interesting. There is also an option I really like to use which is having students do self reviews. As a teacher, when you create the PeerMark assignment, you can decide how many papers you want a student to peer review (I suggest at least two) and if you want students to complete a self review as well.

If you choose this I strongly encourage you (and students) to do it AFTER they have done the peer reviews. This way they have seen how other students do it and have the chance to reflect on their own work. Basically they can say, "Okay well now that I've seen other peoples essays what do I think about mine?" This is a really awesome opportunity for them to point out anything they might have learned and it's especially interesting to compare it to the results they will get from students.

I try to give students two days to look over the suggestions made by their peers before having them turn in their paper to me. This means that the first time I grade it they've gone over it and two other students have gone over it. Not only does this mean they learned more it also typically means my grading is a little bit easier because some of the bigger mistakes have already been caught.

This post ended up a LOT longer than I anticipated, and I could go on, but I'll stop. If you use peer reviews in your class, share how you do in the comments, and if you have any questions just let me know!

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