As teachers we know that our written work is not ready for publication until it has been reviewed by a variety of colleagues for commentary and edits. External review is needed even for good writers because we have a hard time seeing our own writing errors. Plus, we need that extra feedback to sharpen our ideas, discover new directions to take, and generally elevate our work to publication quality.
Yet we don’t apply this same principle to our students. We expect them to submit their work prior to any outside review as if it were the “final draft.” We then grade our students on that unreviewed work, even though we would never want a journal editor to make a decision on our work based on its early drafts.
It’s time to start applying the same principles to our students that we apply to ourselves. I have my students submit their work to “colleagues” (i.e., other students) for commentary and revision prior to submission for a grade. Not only does it improve the quality of their work (making it easier for me to grade, by the way), but it improves their writing by forcing them to correct their errors. But even more importantly, it gets them into the practice of asking others to review their writing, which they will need to do later in life when they’re in the workplace, serving on civic committees, and involved in other collaborative endeavors.
Shared Editing Software
One of the easiest tools for facilitating document review is Google Docs. Students simply create a free Google account, and then load their documents into the editors, which look and function much like any word processing software, such as Microsoft Word. The value is that the creator can give anyone else rights to view or edit the work.
I have my students give both a “Paper Partner” and me access to their work once the first draft is done. The Paper Partner, a fellow student, is then required to make comments directly onto the document. The commentary should point out simple writing errors, as well as whether the ideas are easy to follow. Once revised the student submits the paper to me for a grade. I want early access so I can ensure that all of the Paper Partners are doing their job (or more accurately, my job, as I have farmed out much of the drudgery of editing to them).
Shared editing is also great for group projects, since students can all enter edits directly to a single document, rather than deal with the version confusion that comes with passing around email attachments. I require my students to keep a running log of their group’s activity on a Google Doc so that everyone in the project is on the same page, and so that I can peek in to make sure that things are moving along.
It’s time to start practicing what we preach by requiring the same peer review from our students as we expect of one another, and replacing the archaic email attachment system with shared document editing to get it done.
As usual, I welcome your comments, criticisms, and cries of outrage in the comments section of this blog.