1. Shift the understanding of peer reviews from getting marks to making progress.
Consider this question: What do I want my students to take away from a peer review?
Making certain that students understand that peer review is less about pointing out myriad errors and more about working together to make progress is an important step in implementing peer reviews that have positive associations, utilize the time productively, and encourage a growth mindset.
Instead of only giving glows and grows, add in a forward action to address the grow: What is a resource the peer recommends for this grow? How did he/she learn this skill? What’s a tip he/she recommends to help me move my learning forward?
When engaging in peer reviews, students should recognize that these meetings are about providing and receiving actionable support from another source, which is just one more natural and necessary step in the learning process.
2. Allow students time to prepare for the peer review with guided questions.
To maximize the benefit of peer review, allow the students time with the content they are reviewing before they meet face to face. This accomplishes 3 essential goals.
- It reminds students that in the preparation phase, peer review is truly about improving their peer’s work.
- It sends the message that their input will be valued by the peer.
- It provides an opportunity for students to address each step of the peer review process from an informed standpoint.
Consider this teacher’s sample language:
“After you get your review tomorrow, sure, take your paper and run with the next steps—but when you’re preparing tonight, you’re working hard to give your peer the best review of their work possible. They’ll be working tonight on doing the same for you!”
Students can prepare language, conduct research, and find beneficial resources to support their peer review efforts—thereby lessening the probability of common peer review blunders, such as off-the-cuff remarks or a fixation on errors.
For example, try encouraging students to follow this format in preparation for your next class peer review:
While reviewing your peer’s work, answer the following questions. Provide evidence from the text to support your answer:
Address a Success: What did my peer do very well in this task?
Find Evidence of Growth: How did my peer do on a recently taught skill?
Tackle a Struggle Zone: Where could my peer keep growing?
Brainstorm Next Steps: What steps could my peer take next? What resources could they use?
Prep Language: What phrases will lead my communication with my peer?
The time allotted for preparatory review will depend on grade level and student need. For older students, sharing papers at the close of class for a 5-minute quick-read may suffice. For younger or struggling students, it may be helpful to set a timer of 5-minutes per paragraph, and so on.
Keep in mind that as teachers, we can quickly scan over a student’s work and discern a collective approach for improvement, but for the majority of our students, these skills are still developing. Providing time for students to hone these skills by offering guiding questions to plan their approach will result in more productive peer to peer sessions.
3. Frame the language to align with growth mindset.
All peer to peer communication should reflect that struggling is a normal part of learning.
Offer students sentence stems to frame their language ahead of time in ways that normalize—or even celebrate—struggle. Struggling is a normal part of the learning process, and the language students use when addressing another student’s struggle should reflect that awareness.
For example: “I think you made a mistake here, and that’s normal when we’re learning something. I suggest you try _____________.”
The communication offers critique—but with tangible support to move forward.
Students with a growth mindset continue to push forward in the face of difficulty by redirecting to new strategies or researching for new methods and ideas. Include sentence stems that direct both peers’ focus to addressing each struggle as a supportive team.
For example: “I see you’re struggling with ________. Have you tried researching _________? The next step you could take on this Struggle Zone is to _____. A resource I found for you is ______.”
4. Provide a Growth Mindset-friendly structure for the peers to follow throughout the session.
What are students being asked to do in the peer review session?
How does it align with nurturing a growth mindset?
Dr. Carol Dweck, the primary researcher behind growth and fixed mindsets, defines growth mindset as “when students understand that their abilities can be developed” (Dweck 2014). This growth-oriented belief system then drives determination and creates a willingness to problem-solve—thereby improving learning because students grasp that they are capable of moving the needle on their skills.
Use a peer review structure that reinforces this understanding. Having specified steps for peer partners to follow when meeting is critical to clarify expectations, target focus, and foster productivity, but it is also important to consider how what the students are doing can impact a budding growth mindset.
Consider these questions:
How does the experience impact the students’ perception of potential growth afterward?
Does the student see the benefit in the review?
Does the student have co-created next steps for tackling a struggle?
Start peer reviews by offering students recognition for a success within the paper or project. Starting the discussion with tangible evidence of a successfully learned concept can aid students in being receptive to critique, as well as fuel the determination to master the area in which they still need growth.
During the peer review, try having students make notations from their peer’s feedback. Listening and notating not only keeps the receiving student engaged with the peer speaking, but these notes will then be referenced in moving forward on the area of struggle. They can also be used for personal reflection after the peer review is finished.