Peer review is a very common technique in composition and writing classes. However, unless you’ve got some good peers, the exercise can often seem pointless, a bunch of students sitting there saying, “Well, I thought it was good.” Okay, then. I remember hating peer review in college because I rarely heard anything useful, and was too timid to often say anything helpful. Teaching students how to do constructive peer review, how to judge someone else’s writing, how to say critical things without being personal and how to hear critical things without getting offended is a delicate and difficult process. I’ll be trying it with my 11th graders this upcoming year and expect to be working out the kinks through the first few executions.
As a writer, though, I think peer review is absolutely crucial. It’s so valuable to have your stuff looked over by a fresh eye, someone who hasn’t been obsessing over it for months, someone who can look at it critically, help you untangle and polish and smooth over and highlight whatever needs to be done. With my own stuff, I get to the point where I know I can’t do much more with it myself, and that’s where a good writing buddy comes in. I’ve had a few over the years, and am lucky enough to have just acquired another, a friend who is not only a writer I respect but an English professor, who knows exactly what good peer review should be done. She looked at a poem for me this weekend, and the revisions she suggested are definitely going to make the piece stronger.
So no matter how pointless students think it is, I’ll be teaching it anyway, because when done correctly, peer review can save a piece of writing and help send it out into the world as strong as it can be.