Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Who Benefits from Peer Assessment?

     A growing trend in the traditional classroom is peer assessment. With the growing number of students in a single classroom and fewer planning periods for overworked teachers, peer assessment makes sense — or does it?

     Peer assessment is the practice of swapping work with classmates to receive feedback and/or correction. Peer assessment is commonplace in math or spelling classes where peers are responsible for marking questions as the teacher gives correction to the class. However, the peer review of written work poses quite a dilemma for students.

     Consider the following scenario:

Student A writes an essay and gives it to student B for peer review. Student B comments and corrects punctuation, grammar, spelling, and general writing skill. Student A gets his essay back and makes revisions before submitting a final draft to the teacher.

Therein lies the problem:

Student A is a much stronger writer whose good work was wrongly corrected. Now he has made revisions which are incorrect and will be graded as such by his teacher.

So who benefits from this peer review situation running rampant in middle and high schools across our country? Clearly weaker students can benefit from the assistance of stronger students. And clearly, teachers benefit from the time saved from reviewing rough drafts. But what happens to the students receiving poor writing advice from their peers? And how is a student to know what is right and what is wrong? Where is the consistent standard?

Furthermore, in math or spelling class, the teacher demonstrates a skill to the class so that all of the students have the same opportunity to advance. But in the current state of our schools, where writing education is lacking across the board, what skills are students bringing to the table that qualify them as peer editors?

More than once, my own children have brought me peer reviewed essays so that I can “review their peer review.” On almost all occasions, correct writing was marked wrong. And on another occasion, no errors at all were found by the peer reviewer. Instead, at the end of the essay was a sprawling “Good Job!” Upon my review, however, multiple errors were found. 

Teacher groups and education facilities profess that peer review is a modern technique that benefits everyone involved because students are practicing their editing skills. As a parent and writing teacher, I disagree. Students cannot practice editing skills until they have first been taught to write properly. And under no circumstances, do I want another student “practicing” on my child.  So for the time being, my children bring me their “peer reviewed” work for a second glance.

This peer review is just one more flaw in our American writing education: we have now turned over our writing instruction to our students. It is no wonder that we are seeing college students who are not capable of expressive written thought and professionals with only basic writing skills. It’s time we insist on proper writing education.


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