The “Craft” of Peer Revision: Part I

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This blog was originally posted on April 8th, 2015

Though we have diverse approaches to teaching writing, my experience suggests that one of the commonalities we all share is some sort of peer feedback. Whether we call it peer revision or peer editing or something else, there seems to be wide agreement that seeking feedback is an important part of making writing better. The creative writers in my department would perhaps call this part of the “craft” of writing.  We are more likely to call it part of the writing process.  Regardless, in this series of posts I want to riff a bit on that notion of “craft” by sharing some peer revision strategies I use that are “crafty.” These exercises are all class-tested and Barclay-approved.  I have some theories on why they tend to work so well, which I will share in a later post. For now, though…highlighters!

In my office I keep a bag of inexpensive highlighters in every color I can find—at least thirty or so.  It was a modest investment at the office supply store but it’s paid wonderful dividends.  At least once a semester I bring that bag in for students to use during peer revision.  Here are some of the things I do:

  • Have peers highlight the argument and each key sentence related to the argument in a paper.  Peers tend to read the paper with more care to locate these moments, giving them practice in doing the same sort of work when reading the essays of the class; authors see whether or not readers are able to follow their arguments, where particular moments of support might be missing, if sections of the paper are just “fluff,” and how what they wrote reflects what they wanted to say.
  • Have peers highlight each quotation used in one color and all analysis of quotation in another; alternatively, have peers highlight all analysis one color and all summary another.  Authors can immediately see if there is a particular imbalance, if they just sprinkle quotations without working with them, and if particular parts of their paper are under-supported.
  • When papers include multiple readings, have peers highlight work with each reading in a different color.  Authors will be able to see immediately if they tend to use one reading too much or another not enough.
  • Have peers highlight each transition.  Authors will be able to see where they are missing or where they are so ineffective that readers can’t see the transition.
  • Have peers highlight any patterns of error so that authors can see how frequently they make it.

I’m sure you can imagine more uses for this general technique.  The key is that highlighting highlights particular parts of the paper, allowing students to visualize parts of it instead of just seeing lines of black that blur together.

And, well, it’s fun too.

About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.