Read-around for peer feedback

Providing a space for meaningful peer feedback is often difficult, especially given students come to it with negative experiences in their minds. We probably also come to the planning of peer review with our own negativity bias. I have had my fair share of unfortunate experiences where I walked away feeling wasted time with zero usable feedback.

I watched a good friend use read-arounds in a writing workshop she was leading. Her philosophy was that we need to be more targeted in providing feedback while getting more eyes on assignments. She also shared that we shouldn’t have students provide feedback on areas they (1) cannot or (2) feel uncomfortable. This is usually the dreaded mechanics, usage, spelling, and grammar (MUGS) category. So I thought I’d try it out, and for years after, I did. It is so helpful, so here’s how you can do it.

Step 1: Identify what you want students to provide feedback on

The easiest way to set the groundwork is to use your rubric for the assignment; however, it is common in higher ed not to use rubrics, which makes this step a little more difficult.

I first like to make a list of the components of the assignment product. For example, if it is a design assignment, what are the details of the design? If it is a written product, what are the various sections of the piece or structures in place? Maybe it is a photo or video assignment, and I’m parsing out the different compositional elements that students need to know and show.

I then interrogate that list to think about what students should be able to provide feedback on versus what is intellectually dishonest for me to assume they can. Here’s a pro tip, stick to the content you’ve taught (or know was taught in a lower-level course) and go from there. I also avoid MUGS if possible.

My list is usually filled with “checklist-like” items and higher-order issues, meaning ideas that reflect larger concerns rather than micro-editing needs.

Step 2: Provide instructional guidance for the types of feedback you are seeking

Just because students have done peer review previously doesn’t mean they were taught to do it. I find that the first time I do something related to peer review, it helps to spend some time talking about constructive feedback and what it means to guide someone’s ideas.

I give students this structure in particular:

  • Positives: What, SPECIFICALLY, did the person do that should be celebrated? The use of specific means that the student should point to the exact example and explain how it is representative of the area they were asked to give feedback on.
  • Deltas: Instead of identifying negatives, I ask students to provide specific examples of deltas, meaning possible changes. This is usually denoted in feedback with a triangle. When students share their deltas in the peer review, coach them to talk about how they can help students make that change. If you can’t help, then maybe it isn’t a Delta but a Q.
  • Qs: These are exactly what you’d assume. Help students pose Qs (questions) that provide a pathway for thoughtful reflection. When students pose questions, they should think about the outcome of their questions. Is there something that they see as a pathway to further learning? Is it something that could provide more purpose to the assignment? Questions should not lead students to dead ends at this point in the process, nor should they relate to a completely different project (we’ve all had this one… what if you did this, which is a different idea).
Step 3: Set up the room to read in a round (or map it out in case you can’t move furniture)

This step depends on what you can do with the classroom space you are in. If you have moveable furniture, the best option here is to organize the furniture in the room into a circular shape (reading in a round). If your furniture is stationary or unable to be moved into a circular shape, create a map of the room to help identify how students will be providing feedback and the type of movement you need.

Ultimately, the goal here is to provide students with an easy opportunity to pass around their assignments. Yes, they should be able to be in print if possible. However, when I’ve taught in computer labs or students have multimodal work on laptops, I have students do the moving rather than their assignments (no one needs to pass a laptop around the room).

The assignment movement should be an easy circle, which leads to as many students providing feedback as possible.

Step 4: Give students materials to reference

Don’t expect students to know exactly what you want; thus, providing students with a one-sheeter to explain each read and the order they will be done is incredibly helpful. I also use the projector and slides to hone in on the exact purpose of the reading students will participate in.

You can do this at the beginning of the lesson, or if you are prepared days ahead of time, you can provide it to students beforehand to let them preview the process.

Step 5: Set parameters

Give students the context for which they’ll work. I remind them about positives, deltas, and Qs here, but I also share that they will be confined by time. Each read might have the same amount of time, or students may be asked to work within different timing constraints depending on the focus.

This is also your opportunity to remind students about space and respect, specifically how students approach one another’s work.

Step 6: Run the activity

The activity runs itself if you’ve scaffolded the instructions effectively.

Students will be in their assigned space to start. They will then pass their assignment (or shift their body) to their right. You can have it be to the direct next person or pass it twice to create a visual gap.

This is read one. Students will receive the instructional feedback prompt and the time to read/look at and give constructive feedback. With writing assignments, I commonly focus on specific paragraphs so students are constantly reading whole papers–much like I would have students focus on a specific design element versus the whole design every time.

When the time is up, have the students pass the assignment (or move their bodies) to the right. This begins with reading two. Students will have a new prompt for feedback and new time constraints.

Continue doing this until you have about 8-10 minutes left in class. When you reach that definitive end, have students return the assignment to the original creator.

Step 7: Have students reflect on the process (but also the activity if you’d like)

In the final moments, have students complete an exit slip explaining the process of providing feedback and how it helps them understand and improve their work. You can also ask them to identify two to three deltas and explain how they will make those changes and how they will make them specifically.

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