Li, Liu, and Steckelberg (2010) looked at undergraduate education students who completed a Webquest project and gave peer feedback before revising for a final submission (3). They found that, once the quality of the initial submission was controlled for, those who gave better feedback produced better final products than those who gave poor feedback. However, there was no link between the quality of feedback students received and the quality of the final projects. This is an interesting finding teachers can share with their students, to help improve engagement in peer review activities.
One final interesting study is by Cho and Cho (2011), who categorized comments students gave their peers for an undergraduate physics lab report, to determine how the types of comments given and received influenced writing improvement, and how pre-existing writing skill and qualities of initial drafts influence the types of comments given (4). Comments were categorized by evaluation (whether they identified a strength or weakness in the writing) and scope (surface features, micro-meaning, and macro-meaning).
When students commented more on the strength of macro-meaning and the weakness of micro-meaning, their revised drafts improved more. Effects of received comments were limited to a negative impact from strength comments on surface features, reinforcing the results from Li, Liu, and Steckelberg (2010).
Cho and Cho’s most interesting finding is that stronger initial drafts elicited more strength comments and weaker initial drafts more weakness comments. While this is an obvious finding, it gets me thinking about how the assignments being peer reviewed can influence which writing features are focused on. Sample writing can be chosen that would invite comments on both strengths and weaknesses, as well as contain common errors that can be discussed as a class.
In general, students who give feedback do just as well or even better than students who only receive feedback. Depending on the needs of a class, then, a revision workshop like that done by Graner can be used in lieu of peer review activities, and students will still gain the same benefits they would from participating in peer feedback. This avoids problems caused by students coming to class without a first draft, managing many peer review discussions, and varying qualities of feedback given.
It also helps address issues of students being reluctant to give critical comments to their peers, or reluctant to receive critical feedback. One student from the Chanski and Ellis study (2017) shared that “It is easier to cut apart and criticize someone else’s writing than to hear it about your own. By focusing on someone else’s flaws you begin to see similarities between your writing and theirs making it easier for you to accept your own flaws.”
Giving feedback also puts students in a more active role than receiving feedback, allows them to see other ways of approaching a task, and puts them into the role of reader, gaining distance from their writing that allows them to look at it with a more critical eye (2).
Dylan Wiliam asserts that the purpose of feedback is to change the student, not the work, to improve their performance on tasks they have not yet attempted. By being focused on the feedback they give, rather than the feedback they receive, the student becomes responsible for identifying more general guidelines for writing and applying them to their work, rather than simply following instructions for fixing errors specific to their writing. This could help with transfer of skills to other writing tasks.