Peer Review to Improve Language Proficiency

Dear readers,

Yesterday we had an interesting discussion in one of my classes, which I wanted to talk about today. The background to the discussion is that my teacher asked the students whether they preferred to have the teacher on a macro, or a micro lever when we turn in papers to the teacher.

To briefly explain what this entails, a macro perspective would be that I as a teacher will only look at the ideas and points of views the student is telling me in their paper. I’ll look at the overview so to speak. How are the paragraphs in relation to the content of them? Should they add something that is obviously lacking? Etc. Micro perspective in a paper would instead mean that the teacher goes beyond the main ideas and points made by a student, and will look at grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and the details within a paragraph, for example.

The teachers asked this because the English Majors at the university are apparently not only expected to be professionals when it comes to analyzing literary texts, but they should also improve their language proficiency in order to become workers within the English language field, which in practice means that someone needs to tell them when they are misusing certain words, or when their subject verb agreement is lacking.

Now, an important factor in this discussion is of course that the teacher tells the pros and cons of these decisions. How does it affect us and the teacher’s work load? Is it even realistic to talk about? I would argue yes, it is definitely a positive thing to consider having someone telling you how to improve and what it is you are in need of improving. Especially if one has a hard time figuring that out by themselves.

A brief discussion about this erupted in the classroom, and I suggested what I am used to from my home university; peer review. Oh my god, it is such a great invention! The idea is quite simple. Each student has between 3-4 texts to read and review. They look at the text both from a micro and macro level, annotating their comments in the text which the student can later see and decide if the comments are helpful in any way. This is not only great because you have between 6-8 different eyes looking at your text, but my strongest argument for this is of course that not all are the same. We have different strengths and weaknesses which we all work by. So, what one person sees in a text, someone else might have missed. This means that if I am really great at looking at grammar mistakes, student X might be great at sentence structure and student Y might be great at looking at paragraphs and how they can become better structured.

Judging from the reactions, they were not very keen on trying this idea out. One argument was that they were all “as bad at English” which would not help any of them, because they will not be able to see the mistakes of others. I disagree, with my whole soul and mind. You simply cannot judge a whole classroom and generalize the level of English. I think it boils down to not wanting to be wrong if you end up giving a peer review and you happen to say something that does not add up. I think it is really sad. In a country where English is widely used but still as a foreign language (as in Sweden) it is of great importance to have strategies of developing your language, and part of that is definitely not only by the teachers, but also by your peers. That is how you develop. Also, there are great benefits to looking at others’ texts and their writing style. In my experience, I have learned so much by just learning more of how others are presenting their ideas in their papers. Every little helps, is my opinion in this.

So, what were the results? There were none. We would look at the possibility of having a forum where texts could be posted and commented upon. But that is not the same thing as organized peer reviewing. Although I understand that there are different systems in different countries when it comes to learning cultures, my firm view is that learning a language is in its most general form approached in the same way.

Honestly, it is a sad outcome. I wonder if they know what they are missing out on by not using their own proficiency or learning of others’ and only relying on one person to teach them all they need to know. An unrealistic idea.

What do you think of peer review? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!





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