First of all, let me give you a bit of context. You can read my full bio HERE, but I teach ESL (English as a Second Language) at the community college. I've taught lower levels before, but for the past three or four years I've been teaching advanced writing to ESL. I, specifically, help with what I call the "bridge" course. It's basically the writing course after all of our ESL courses (we have four levels of skills) and just before our freshman composition.
Exploring the importance of Peer Review
Over the last year or so I've been tweaking (a lot) with the idea of how to better teach peer review to ESL. As a writing tutor for ten plus years, I've had a lot of training in how to work with writers and best practices for giving useful comments that will help writers gain confidence and learn to brainstorm, draft, revise and edit on their own. And for many of those years I was a peer tutor, which means that I was a student like them, not an instructor. (Although, truth be told, peer tutoring isn't much different than tutoring as an instructor, which I currently do at the community college and online.)
My Master's thesis was, essentially, on helping students to take control of their own writing process and discussing tutor strategies for avoiding appropriation (taking-over) in a session, specifically in helping ESL writers. I called it "Finding Feedback Footing," because it's a tricky balance, especially when working with ESL students.
Why do we teach peer review to ESL?
Well, I can't speak for all ESL teachers, but I started teaching peer review in my advanced writing classes because I knew that my students would be expected to do it in their freshman comp class. I wanted them to have a head-start in it.
I also wanted to do it because I'm a tutor and I strongly believe in seeking out and giving advice for writing projects. Like I said, I was a peer tutor, so I was in the Writing Center while I was earning my English degree. I often tell people that I learned everything I needed to know about academic writing while tutoring. When you teach something, you learn it better, so I really liked the idea of helping students have the opportunity to teach others, like I did.
How to teach peer review
This is something that I've been playing with since I started teaching advanced writing, and I'd like to say I have a perfect solution that will work with any class, but I can't. I don't think I could even promise you that my current methodology will work for all community colleges. Nevertheless, I'm quite proud of my teaching process, especially this week because I just witnessed a student having an ah-ha moment during peer review, and it was priceless.
So...I want to spend some time dissecting the process I go through to teaching peer review (because it's grown, especially, over the past year), but before I do that, I just want to mention that I was at AZTESOL this last weekend, and someone there mentioned that he teaches his basic writing students to practice peer review. And I thought, why not?
As I've been thinking about my lessons on peer review this week I thought about whether or not what I teach my advanced students would work for beginners or basic ESL, and I think the answer is yes! Of course, I'd have to change the language, some of the videos and examples, but the steps I teach them are applicable to them. I think it's a great idea to introduce the idea of peer review as soon as possible.
This blog is a two part. I've got a lot of thoughts on this topic, so you'll get more on my ideas for teaching peer review in the next post, but before I close this one, I just want to say some things on empathy.
Something I promised myself when I became a teacher is that I would never ask my students to do something that I haven't first done myself, so (for example) when I did my book talk assignment for the first time, I did all the steps. I chose a book, I read it, and I gave a four minute presentation (no powerpoint) to my students. I've tried to incorporate this promise to myself for peer review. I've experienced peer review throughout college, but I think the best empathy-building experiences have come as I started my creative writing certificate. I had to read my poems and short stories in front of the class, as well as share it with the whole class---not just in pairs or groups, which I've done as well.
I think it's important to remember the fear and stress I've felt sharing my own writing with others when teaching peer review. But then you have to times that fear by at least ten because these ESL students are sharing writing that is not in their first language. They are doing amazing things! Stuff that I could never do!... so that's a message that I try to share with my students as often as possible.
So, there you have it. My thoughts on why teaching peer review skills are so important. Now read about my process for teaching it in part two.
Read Part 2