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Transforming Peer Editing

Written by Larissa Pahomov
July 23, 2011

Because of the skill-building nature of the assignment, we knew from the start essays were not going to be published straight to the web, but they were definitely meant for more just the teacher. Linda Christensen writes that “students need to feel that their work is important, relevant, and meaningful. If not, why should they spend time working on it?” Google Docs made it easy for students share their work at will, and we counted on this system to improve our peer editing process.

Before 2Fer essays went online, peer editing was often the least authentic part of this assignment. This was due in part not to the absence of technology, but to the fact that I expected students to arrange for editing out of class. The editing was typically superficial, and I realized that for an assignment this central to the class, students deserved more in-class time to work. 

I knew that in-class time would improve the overall quality of editing. Would the use of online commenting tools in Google Docs also have a positive effect? My students took quickly to the steps of sharing their doc with a peer and reminding each other of the the command for inserting a comment (“Option – Command – M!”) 

On the whole, I feel that both the number and quality of edits improved using Google Docs, and also continued to improve class-wide as the year went on. One influence was certainly the fun of computerized sticky notes — Students typed much more than they would have ever written by hand, and got deeper into their feedback than ever before. This was true for myself as well. Below is a clip of a student draft with comments from a peer, catching small errors and asking big questions in the same paragraph. (To see larger versions of these images, click on the thumbnails at the top of this page.)

After this peer editing had taken place, students would have a moment to debrief, and then begin to sift through the feedback and compose their final draft. Because the rough draft lived on with all the peer comments in tact, when it came time for me to comment on the final, I could observe their process closely (without killing the many trees it takes to do this on paper). Below are my comments on final draft of the same essay as above — and here I actually catch a peer comment that the student never addressed on the final, and ditto them.

This valuing of peer edits enriched our class in a number of ways. Even though the activity was not for a separate grade, students took pride in their work as editors, and I made a point of giving examples of quality edits throughout the year. Their edits lived alongside mine, and were arguably more important in shaping student writing as students went from draft to final. Students often referred to peer edits when listing their own strengths and weaknesses, and when it came time to write their “Reflective 2Fers” they quoted their peers. (More on Reflective 2Fers in the next section of this resource.)

The ease of sharing also encouraged student to seek multiple editors and share their work with friends. As the year went on, “I read that 2Fer!” was not an uncommon exclamation among the grade. If your site has signed up for google apps en masse, it is also possible to make documents public to everyone within that domain — a great middle ground between selective sharing and public to the web.

One potential drawback to this process is that, while the comment system made it easier to type up big ideas, it made small edits less effective. While I don’t believe in the tyranny of the red pen, quick fixes like an apostrophe or a missing letter couldn’t just be slipped in where they belonged. Until a commenting system exists that more closely mimics handwritten edits, these fixes are more easily done on paper. Some of our more gramatically-challenged students picked up on this, and would make a point to do a paper edit in addition to the online round. As the year progressed, I gave more specific prompts during peer editing sessions that pushed students to make both “big” and “small” edits.