Over the many years I have taught seniors in composition and/or juniors and seniors in creative writing, I have experimented with various ways to structure peer critiquing. I’ve been using the 1-on-1 writing conference and peer-critiquing since 1991, and I believe in these techniques and processes.
In fact, as my dissertation research showed, one of the most under utilized aspects of school curriculum is the peer-to-peer conference for improvements in writing. (My dissertation focused on the use of a school-wide writing/literacy center, based around the work of student writing tutors.) I, therefore, do a good deal of work with the peer-conference.
However, I have found the peer-conference to be, at times, difficult to use, especially if students are not attuned to the nuances of the process. Students often do not want to be “mean” (as they perceive) or they may even assume an indifferent stance. Many conferences are too short and of little value to the writer, frequently ending in the empty advice to “add more details” or “fix some grammar.” So, in order to make these conferences more meaningful from the beginning of the drafting process, I ask students to -- in a very deliberate way -- answer specific questions about the writing of their peers.
I’ve created a Google Doc table that each student uses for his/her critique of a fellow student. First, I make sure students are sitting with a randomly assigned partner, then I have everyone download my Google-based critiquing table and complete the instructions to set-up for critiquing.
Once each student has a copy of his/her own sheet established, then I make certain the pairs have shared their drafts with one another via Drive sharing. Then, as the instructions state on the critiquing table, I have each student cut-n-paste his/her partner’s draft narrative into box I. On the left side of the critique table, students will provide answers to nine specific sets of questions. They will respond in the corresponding, numbered rectangle inside box II. (I hope this is apparent from the directions on the original critique table.)
As to the specific critique questions, I’ve turned to the McGraw-Hill Guide for Writing for College, Writing for Life (3rd ed.), new this fall from McGraw-Hill. In this college comp. textbook, the editors ask students to answer these nine question clusters when critiquing personal writing from their classmates.
So, simply put, after they have their tables organized and ready, they type answers to the question sets (from McGraw-Hill), one set of answers per rectangle. Before they begin, read aloud from the question set and make certain there are no needed clarifications. About half-way through their work, and when you are certain they understand what they are to do, ask students to share their doc with the “writer” that is the “critiquer” shares to the writer.
Depending on how long it takes the class to read and comment on the first few question clusters, you will be able to gauge the length of time for this activity. On the first day, I had 20 - 21 in each section of my three classes finish in about 35 min. I did provide about 10 “free” minutes on the following day to make certain everyone had completed the question set. It’s important for the final revision that everyone have rich enough feedback from partners!
Here are two student examples of completed critique tables: