The process of peer editing taps into the often unused resource in every classroom. Students have a range of abilities and should be encouraged to use their prior knowledge to benefit the group. Some are more knowledgeable about a range of topics. Others are organized. Still more are great with grammar and usage. Not every student is at the same level, but every student has something to offer.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Early in the year, I begin training students how to peer edit and conference. It begins by reviewing short writing samples as a class. These samples are written below the class’s grade level and highlight specific grammar errors that I want to teach that day. Together, we discover problems and recognize what the writer did well. This builds confidence and reinforces technique.
Student-Student Peer Conferencing
When students are ready with their writing and peer editing skills, they pair off and trade rough drafts. It may be best for the teacher to pair them at first. After reading each other’s work, they begin the editing and conferencing. When it comes time to construct a response to the author, students are taught a three-step process: compliments, suggestions, and corrections. Written compliments and suggestions should be between two to three sentences each and need to be sincere.
The compliment is critical, so as not to drown the author in criticism. It is the first step in this process because it is important to keep the conference positive. Despite any overwhelming errors a paper might have, there is always something that the author did well. Perhaps the student attempted to write complex sentences (notice the word “attempted”). The effort to improve writing skills and try new techniques should be encouraged at every opportunity. Tackling this step first sets the editor up as someone who wants the writer to do well, not someone who is only interested in proving their superiority.
Suggestions should take the form of broader comments regarding content or organization. These constructive observations and should cover concepts like staying on topic, patterns of misuse, and whether supporting details are effective in the ways that they are used. Suggestions should be written in complete sentences and be specific enough that they can be reread and followed long after the conference is over.
The corrections are done on the writer’s draft and use traditional marks for editing a piece of writing such as circling misspelled words and adding punctuation. It is best to set your students up with a single marking system that is used class-wide. Teach your student editors that there is a difference between editing a piece of writing and rewriting a piece for their partner. Instead of rewriting a poorly worded sentence for the author, editors should explain why the sentence is incorrect. This allows the author to retain ownership of the piece as well as the responsibility for correcting their own mistakes.
Downsides? Only if you let them be
A peer editing session is no reason for a teacher to excuse themselves from involvement. Do kids make mistakes when editing? Of course they do. Sometimes, a student will mistakenly adjust an already correct sentence. It is up to the students who are peer conferencing to assist each other and bring concerns to their teacher. At all times, the teacher in the room is responsible for the integrity of the process.
Why aren’t you doing it?
Peer editing and conferencing teaches students reflective and analytical techniques as it reinforces lower order grammar and usage skills. While allowing the classroom teacher oversight, it is an entirely student-led process and results in corrected rough drafts that are immediately ready for author revision. It provides greater student engagement while lightening teacher paperwork piles. Why aren’t you doing it?
Download a copy of the Student Editing Sheet that I use here: Student Editing Sheet