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This week was peer-review week in my First-Year Composition class. It did not go as well as I hoped, insofar as more than half of my classes didn’t bother showing up. For the students who were there, the process went well, was a meaningful experience for them (how do I know? I have them write reflections about the process at the end of the class), and they benefited from receiving feedback as well as reading what their classmates had done. Those aren’t the students I’m worried about.

Nor am I particularly worried about the students who didn’t come. I can explain as to why peer-review is so important, provide excellent videos that say basically the same thing, as well as making it very clear at the outset that this process not only means a better paper but represents a significant portion of their “homework” grade. Their wake-up call will be the poor grade on the paper and subsequent midterm grade. It’s not perfect, but at this point, it seems to be the only tool I have left.

I’m worried about the students who seem to think that they can simply bypass the process and have me correct their papers for them. I’ve written about this phenomenon before, and most recently there was a student who took to her student newspaper, venting about her displeasure at the Writing Center’s refusal to simply correct her paper. While meeting a student face-to-face during office hours to discuss their papers is part of my job, and one that I gladly do, they have to show that they have at least attempted to improve their papers on their own through the peer-review process. Students who just simply email me their papers (while not coming to class or to my office) and expect me to correct them are, to my mind, the most troubling of the bunch.

Now, I completely understand why students are resistant to peer-review; they’re students, so what do they know about good writing? And, I understand why students think that bypassing their peers and coming straight to me; I am the one, after all, who will be grading their work. But, my job is to help them become better, more independent writers, and the peer-review process is an important piece of their evolutions as writers. They learn how to read more critically, how to recognize patterns in writing, as well as how to meaningfully revise their work.

My class is so much more than just learning-to-write-a-rhetorical-analysis-essay-earn-an-A-and-get-three-credits. It’s about learning to write so as to be successful in college. Learning how to do this on their own is important. If I look at it from the perspective of a coach, I can’t swim the race for them. No matter how much they may want me to. 

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