Session at NEMLA's 2020 conference taking place in Boston

This roundtable will examine peer-response as a regular practice in composition courses. While it has long been part of composition pedagogy, its results in the classroom are often disappointing. This roundtable will examine the structure of peer-response, the possible discrepancies between what we imagine are its goals and the ways in which students perceive it, and methods for initiating and promoting a more effective peer-response process.

Peer response has for long been a staple of most composition classes. The inter-student dynamic that it is supposed to create is key for encouraging active learning and student empowerment. If students cannot recognize each other as writers, it will be difficult for them to recognize themselves as writers. By reducing the aura of authority invested in the teacher, peer response opens a more dynamic and democratic power relation. However, the touted benefits of peer response are often disappointingly absent in classrooms. How do we know if students take our carefully crafted peer-revision sheets seriously? Do they cynically, and not without good reason, suspect that we are simply shifting some of the burden of commenting on student work to them? How to overcome students’ ingrained distrust of their peer’s suggestions? And how to mitigate students’ prejudices against the capabilities of their colleagues, in particular when the latter are ESL students? Even if students want to take peer response seriously, can they be honest or fair given the dynamics of competition and identification that exist between them? How do perceived racial and gender identities affect and transform the peer review process? Furthermore, what is the ideal balance between peer review and instructor feedback?

The goal of this roundtable is to explore how to fine-tune peer-response to increase its benefits as well as survey the gap between theoretical understandings of peer review’s functions and its practical implementation. What are the real goals of peer-response as it is currently practiced? If peer-response is supposed to develop students’ critical thinking, should teacher intervention be kept to a minimum? Or does peer-response call for greater teacher involvement to model the behaviors and habits that students are to develop? How can we rethink methods for initiating and promoting a more insightful and equitable peer-response process?  

For questions about our panel, please contact Isabel Sobral Campos at [email protected] or Jin Chang at [email protected].