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Strategy Spotlight: Anonymous Peer Editing

Increasing the effectiveness of peer editing can be as simple as removing a name.

By Lani Aquino

This latest Strategy Spotlight comes from EdSurge’s How Anonymous Peer Editing Changed the Culture of My Classroom. Eighth grade ELA teacher Karen McDonald shares her struggles and her big revelation when it comes to asking students to edit one another’s work. While this seems like a pretty standard practice in most ELA classrooms and really any course with writing involved, many students don’t really have a clear idea of how to comment on the work of others in a way that can offer insight for effective revision.

Peer editing isn’t there to take the place of a teacher’s input or direction, but it is an excellent additional tool for young writers when it is effectively utilized. McDonald found, like most other ELA teachers, that students can find the writing process to be a laborious one, especially when it comes to lengthier assignments. Their hurriedness to institute a one-and-done attempt at a paper makes peer editing seem like an added burden or an uncomfortable task with no real direction.

Offer some feedback practice.

McDonald felt that one reason behind the reluctance to tackle the task of peer editing could be the lack of understanding on how to constructively do so. Students had no clear understanding of how to construct valuable feedback. She offered some practice during the research paper writing process by posting a question on Google Classroom asking students what they thought of the research process so far and whether or not they were happy with their topics of choice. She kicked off the responses to offer some sample language and said that students’ responses could be either positive or negative, but they had to be worded appropriately.

A mix of encouraging and off the mark comments were posted. Once the initial feedback was received, McDonald pulled up all the comments for the class to review together. They highlighted helpful additions and talked through others. Over the next couple of weeks, she saw a dramatic improvement in responses and a positive impact on overall peer interactions. It was now time to move on with the process.

Add a dash of anonymity.

The research papers had all been typed and printed, and the big peer editing day had arrived. When students entered the classroom, McDonald’s revelation that editing would be taking place was met with groans and eye rolls. When she added the anonymity component, there was an excited shift in the mood.

All papers were lined up on the back table with removable tape covering the student names and two giant sticky notes placed on the front of each. One sticky note would be used to record two positive comments about the paper, and the second would be used to add two suggestions for improvement. After editing for basic errors and completing the sticky note comments, the paper would be returned to its numbered spot on the back table. The peer editor would then selected a second paper to review in the same fashion.

McDonald said, “It was validating to see students working so hard, and reading so carefully.” She noted that even students who struggled with the editing skills were very thorough and mindful with their comments. The addition of anonymity created an excitement to edit and an equal enthusiasm for discovering the editing suggestions.

Taking the time to help students understand how to construct feedback made peer editing much more impactful. Adding the anonymous element took some of the pressures off as both the editor and the receiver of the editing suggestions. McDonald found that the final papers that were turned in a week later had marked improvements from the drafts that were placed on the back tables.

Applications for Other Areas

  • Anonymous editing could become a part of any classroom where writing or revision is utilized. This would be a great tool to use for Science of History Fair projects.
  • Using Google Classroom as a platform for gathering student responses to then review could be beneficial in any subject. It is a perfect way to gather information in one place and then constructively review and learn as a whole.
  • The anonymous element could also be used for offering feedback on processes. Performing Arts and/or play execution in sports would be places where this tool could prove beneficial.

Other Strategies for Peer Editing

  • Making peer editing a revision station within a larger review process allows students to get some structured input within the writing process.
  • Being purposeful in teaching editing strategies is key to having peer editing be impactful. Peer Edit with Perfection offers a tutorial and practice from Read Write Think.
  • Find the right peer editing worksheet for the task. A structured student response sheet can help peer editors know what to focus on as they review.

The element of anonymity can create a level of excitement to what can feel like a routine or even overwhelming task. Karen McDonald used some purposeful instruction in offering feedback and took the angst off of editors’ plates by covering up the names and helping students understand how to construct effective comments. Be sure to check back for future Strategy Spotlights that highlight strategies teachers use to impact learning.

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