Most interesting to me in Kory Lawson Ching’s alternative genealogy to Gere’s account of the history of peer response is the reintroduction and reconsideration of the original precepts behind peer response as tools for analysis in the contemporary classroom. In thinking about how we should incorporate peer response into our classrooms (or if we should), I want to focus on the following concepts: 1) writing’s social dimension; 2) the seeming tug-of-war between teacher authority and student autonomy; and 3) the dialogic model (discussed in a different context last week by Berzsenyi).
The question of “the social dimension of writing” (Gere qtd. in Ching 304) can become lost in the discussion around certain writing techniques, the strength of a thesis, and other considerations we ask students to focus on in writing workshops. While it’s likely each one of us understands writing as a social practice, a sphere for discussion (a slightly different concept than the social concept discussed in the essay), perhaps the lack of emphasis on this component is what handicaps some students from understanding writing, whether it’s a poem or an academic essay, as a social tool and as a conversation. When we ask students to review their colleagues’ work for a clear thesis and supporting evidence, or for incorporation of a variety of sources into their texts, perhaps we inadvertently diminish the element of conversation in asking students to go through a checklist–real or imagined–as they review each other’s work. I wonder if anyone has a suggestion for how to restore the idea of production not for the purpose of artifact, but for the purpose of stimulating discussion. Perhaps this can be done via an activity: Patrick’s mock trial example last week sounded like a possibility. While there was much talk in this essay of restoring the spirit of student-led groups in the classroom peer review, examples and proposals were scarce.
The very acknowledgement of the difference between student-led and teacher-led peer reviews seems closely related to student understanding and embracing of peer response exercises as a conversation. My students express that they feel a tangible benefit from the process of peer revision, but, as I circulate among the various peer review groups, I can’t help but notice that there’s less a sense of autonomy among the students than a desire on their part to assume the authority of the teacher as they comment on each other’s work. Speaking frankly, this sometimes results in bad advice from one student to another. Presumably, the aforementioned checklist of items to consider during peer review is designed to avoid meandering, baseless comments and ground students’ responses to their peers’ work. But if students seem to understand that they should provide “teacherly” comments on their colleagues’ work instead of viewing the review process as conversation, it seems that the teacher’s ceding authority has resulted in something other than student autonomy. I wonder how different this really is than the old recitation model, which emphasized memorization and recitation over critical thinking (which recalls Plato’s complaint against the the oral tradition of Homeric verse vis-à-vis written literature). While Lerner might express a mistrust of teacher authority (308), students–particularly first year writing students–seem to expect (to not say prefer) the so-called transmission style of instruction. When, at the end of the peer revision held during my last class, I passed back my comments on rough drafts, students who had been previously rapt in their attention to their colleagues’ feedback stopped just short of tossing their peers’ comments away as they immediately shifted their energies to digesting my notes.
Perhaps the last approach to peer review that I want to discuss–the dialogic model–can provide a resolution to the above quandaries. With teacher and students working in tandem to evaluate student work, Ching suggests that students “do not learn from teachers or from peers, but rather by engaging in the practices of writing and reading alongside both” (315). I’m having trouble visualizing what such a peer review workshop would look like: in almost all workshops in which I’ve participated, the instructor’s presence weighs heavily upon the student discussion no matter how hard he or she tries to get out of the way. Even in this sort of workshop where students and teacher are writing and reading alongside each other, how can we address the tendency–some of it based on learned behavior, some of it due to some students’ desire to take the path of least resistance–to privilege instructor feedback over all other input from their peers?
I’m interested in hearing everyone’s ideas on how to put the above ideas into practice. It seems like there are potential snares no matter what direction we take with peer revision.