“It’s on the syllabus…”

February 3, 2012 at 6:49 am (Uncategorized) ()

A Common Instructor-Student Conversation:


I wonder if anybody has made one of these about peer review in writing classes?  It only took me nine semesters of teaching to think of this method of addressing the usual “but my peer reviewer is DUMB and I think YOU should read and comment on all of our drafts” complaints:

In this class, we talk about communities of thinkers, about academic writing as joining an ongoing conversation, about different expectations in different disciplines, and I try to tie peer review and the writing process into all of this. But all that is still pretty vague for first- and second-semester students sometimes,  I think, especially the ones who aren’t humanities majors and who are concerned first and foremost with their grades in this exact moment rather than “higher order” concerns.  So I’m going to try more clearly stressing the value of peer review not just for the writer, but also for the reader.  (In other words, I am going to try taking my own advice and addressing my audience’s values, attitudes, and beliefs in this rhetorical context.)

The complaining students always base their complaints on the fact that not everybody gives them consistently valuable feedback in peer review.  In other words, they are coming to me as writers. But this class is also about reading rhetorically and critically, as that is a necessary component of writing rhetorically and critically.  And learning to give thoughtful, constructive feedback, even in a situation in which one is not an expert, is a valuable skill regardless of one’s intended major — certainly valuable in their intended future careers (and the students here always already have intended majors and intended future careers, even as freshmen, and even the 300 and 400 level English classes are often full of non-humanities majors who are double-majoring or minoring in English but majoring in something “practical” [and parent-pleasing… tuition is steep here]).  Everybody, even students who already have a lot of experience with writing academic prose, can learn something in a writing class like this.  And sometimes, the most important lesson a new college student has to learn has more to do with collegiality, professional communication and interaction in a shared community, and (as I put it much more bluntly to a student a few semesters ago) basically not being a self-centered egotistical cut-throat who feels that throwing one’s peers under the bus while showing off his or her own (sense of) superiority is a good strategy for academic and professional success.

So I’m going to find a more tactful way to say that and see if that helps head off the usual complaints about the peer review process.  (Tips welcome!)


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