Peer Review: Details & Examples

Professor Bettis designs writing assignments that require students to engage with key course questions. 

  • First, students write and submit their own papers. 
  • Next, students calibrate their understandings of the characteristics of successful essays and problematic essays by reviewing sample papers written by the instructor to highlight either common thinking or writing errors or to model adept disciplinary thinking. 
  • Once students are able to distinguish successful writing from unsuccessful writing, students review each other’s work using an instructor-designed rubric.  This rubric is formulated to help students provide concrete, useful peer feedback and also helps students to reflect more deeply on important issues explored in the course. 
  • Students review their own writing, reflecting on the new ideas and skills they have acquired in the peer review process. 

As a result, the students sharpen their thinking and engage in many of the higher-order thinking skills identified in Bloom’s Taxonomy, particularly Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. 

Image of students discussing assignments.

To facilitate peer review in his large (150-200 students) lecture course, Professor Bettis uses Calibrated Peer Review (CPR), a web-based software that organizes anonymous peer review and also calculates a grade based upon the students’ reliability as peer reviewers as well as the students’ reflections on their own and on others’ writing.  The process is similar to the process of peer review outlined above.  Each paper is given a final grade based upon a combination of:

  • the student’s ability to accurately calibrate three sample writings;
  • the student’s ability to give reliable feedback on others’ papers;
  • a self-assessment of the student’s own work; and
  • an average of fellow students’ ratings, which are adjusted according to each reviewer’s reliability rating. 

The instructor can review scores flagged for potential problems and override them as needed.  However, a University of Iowa study has found that CPR scores closely match those determined by TAs.  Since CPR is an online tool, it also avoids the time limitations of an in-class review, allowing for deeper thinking and reflection.   

Whether or not peer review of writing relies on CPR as a tool, peer review has the potential to:

  • promote critical thinking of crucial course concepts;
  • emphasize reading and collaboration skills;
  • identify and  help students overcome disciplinary “bottlenecks” – aspects of a discipline that are particularly difficult for novices – by providing thoughtful grading rubrics that decode disciplinary thinking and by exposing students to the work of other novices who have recently worked through the bottleneck to solid conceptual understanding;
  • encourage a critical engagement with colleagues’ papers, modeling scholarly discourse and academic scholarship;  
  • highlight the importance of writing and peer review in science, especially for students who may be more prone to the misconception that writing is unimportant in the sciences; and
  • encourage self-assessment and ongoing reflection so that students use feedback from each assignment to improve throughout the semester.