What Are the Disadvantages of Student Peer Review?

A lack of experience with evaluating writing can cause fractures in the peer review process.
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In writing classes, peer review provides the opportunity for students to read their classmates' papers in groups and to receive constructive criticism. While students often leave peer review with good ideas about how to improve their writing, there are several reasons why many instructors choose not to make this activity part of their curriculum. Some of the disadvantages of student peer review include many students' lack of experience with the process, the creation of more work for the instructor and personal judgments that may interfere with taking comments seriously.

1 Lack of Critique Experience

Many students have difficulty with peer review because they don't know how to evaluate writing. Often, they fall back on correcting punctuation, grammar and other line-level concerns rather than focusing on content issues. According to the University of Minnesota, providing students with a checklist of elements to look for in peer review, such as thesis, argument and organization, can guide their responses to each other's papers. Having a class "mock peer review" session, where all students read one paper and respond to it as a group, can also give them an opportunity to practice making comments.

2 Constructive Criticism

Putting students in "judgment" of their classmates can also make them uneasy about giving honest comments. Because of this, the Miami University Writing Center suggests that instructors explain to students that "responding" to a student paper does not mean "criticizing" it; it can mean asking questions, marking things they liked and highlighting places where the author seems to be unclear. Teachers can encourage students to write in the paper's margins, underline passages and write notes on the back of the paper, thus providing respectful, but honest feedback.

3 More Work for Instructors

English instructors must decide whether or not to evaluate students based on their peer review participation. Because part of the class is often about becoming a better editor, many instructors choose to have them hand-write their comments on their classmates' papers and turn them in for credit. English classes already involve a lot of grading, and reviewing students' peer review feedback can significantly add to the instructors' workload. Instructors can avoid this by evaluating students during the actual peer review session; by observing each group, they can see who is participating and offering constructive feedback.

4 Reader Judgments

A University of Arizona study concluded that many students tend to judge group members based on factors such as GPA, race and background. For example, if one student gets better grades than another, another student may consider their comments more valuable than someone else's. This can also happen as a result of social politics; students may give their friends positive feedback while unfairly judging others' writing. According to the Arizona study, requiring the author and respondent to verbally communicate about the comments allows for a respectful exchange of ideas, while still letting the final decision rest with the author.

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.