Researchers: Evaluating Peers' Writing Can Help Students Improve Their Own

Date Published: 
Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Practice giving feedback to peers and instruction on evaluation using specific criteria can help elementary school students improve their own writing, according to a study co-authored by a Cato College of Education professor.

Published in the journal Reading Research Quarterly, the study was conducted by Dr. Zoi Philippakos, assistant professor in the Department of Reading and Elementary Education and a colleague from the University of Delaware, Newark. The research examined the effects of giving feedback on reviewers’ writing quality and inclusion of elements of persuasion.  Participants were fourth and fifth-grade students.

“The study examined the effects of giving feedback using genre-specific evaluation criteria on students’ writing quality,” said Philippakos. “Peer review involves both giving and receiving feedback; this study was designed to isolate the effects of giving feedback on students’ persuasive writing.”

In the study, fourth and fifth grade students were trained to review and provide comments on peers’ writing. They were then randomly assigned to three groups: reviewers, reader-control and time-control. The reviewers read persuasive essays written by unknown students and provided numeric ratings and feedback. The reader-control group read the same papers but did not provide any feedback, and the time-control group read narrative books. 

Results indicated that both instruction in evaluation criteria and the practice of peer reviewing papers led to improvements in the quality of students’ own writing.

“Compared to the control group, reviewers improved the quality of their own persuasive writing,” said Philippakos. “They also provided more elements of persuasion compared to readers of persuasive essays and to readers of narrative texts.”

“The likely explanation is that reviewing helped students learn the evaluation criteria and apply them when writing and revising their own essays,” the authors noted.

Researchers outlined several benefits of using peer review as an approach in the revision process:

  • Supports cognitive processes by providing a routine for evaluation and consideration of change
  • Support writers in developing a sense of audience
  • Peers may identify problems that the authors do not see because they do not know what they intended to say

Since peer review is a reciprocal process, researchers believe that there are several benefits of students giving feedback including:

  • Reviewers are required to take the perspective of the reader which may increase their awareness of audience
  •  May support students’ critical reading skills and improve their understanding of evaluation criteria and how to apply them to make revisions
  • May be easier than learning self-evaluation because it can be difficult to identify errors in one’s own writing
  •  May improve the students’ ability to evaluate and revise their own work as well as improve their first drafts

“Overall, reviewing was found to be an instructional approach that could be easily implemented in elementary classrooms and could improve students’ writing quality and their ability to self-evaluate,” said Philippakos.

This approach to peer review is further examined in the book “Developing Strategic Writers Through Genre Instruction: Resources for Grades 3-5,” which Dr. Philippakos coauthored with Drs. Charles A. MacArthur and David Coker, in the articles “The use of genre-specific criteria for revision” (coauthored with Dr. Charles MacArthur), and, “Giving Feedback: Preparing students for peer review and self-evaluation,” (single-authored, in press) and online here

Dr. Charles A. Macarthur from the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Delaware, Newark, co-authored this study.