IN-CLASS PEER REVIEWS: HOW EFFECTIVE ARE THEY?
Reading and writing are interrelated activities and peer review is a technique commonly used in the classroom to reflect this whole language view of reading and writing. However it has its proponents and opponents in literature. Min (2006) believes it is a powerful way for ESL/EFL students to improve their writing. Others consider it as a complementary and effective source of feedback in L2 writing classrooms (Villamil and Guerrero, 1998; Tsui and Ng, 2000). The arguments put forth against the peer review process are those of students’ perceptions: lack of confidence and seriousness and the time involved. Hanrahan and Isaacs (2001) and Topping et al (2000) point out that students found the time element involved far outweighing the learning benefits.
Given the varied stance in literature, the objective of this classroom-based study was to explore the impact of a peer review process on students’ writing. The international students involved in the study were doctoral students assigned to a thesis writing module (ES5002) at the National University of Singapore. The teaching and learning approach used in the module was based on the ESP genre approach (Swales,1990). Students were guided to write five assignments: Introduction (consisting of three assignments-Context, Literature Review, Gap and Purpose), followed by the Results and Conclusions assignments
The data for the study initially came from elicited answers to questions from the peer review sheets given to students for each of the five assignments. When the peer review exercise was first introduced, a cursory look at students’ responses showed that most of their responses consisted of either a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’, in spite of reminding students to elaborate with evidence from their peers’ writing. Secondly, a general disengagement with the review process was perceived. Finally, the end of semester rating for the peer review component of the module was not very encouraging.
It became obvious the peer review sheets needed to be modified and that the instructions needed to be made explicit. Several explicit changes were made. Firstly, the objectives of the peer review exercise were clearly stated. Secondly, questions in the peer review sheets were qualitatively modified to elicit responses beyond the students’ customary ’YES’ or a ‘NO’. In other words, they would have to elaborate with evidence from their peers’ writing. Students were also asked to explicitly state the benefits they derived from the exercise.
Having made the above modifications, this teacher-researcher set out to explore the effectiveness of the modifications on the peer review process. The questions that this study addresses are:
1. Were there differences in students’ responses before and after the modification exercise?
2. Were changes made to students’ drafts, based on the feedback?
3. How had the students benefitted from the exercise?
Students’ responses will be qualitatively and quantitatively analysed to address the research questions. The findings should enable this teacher-researcher to draw implications for the curriculum and the teaching and learning process.