Peer Review Revisions

In this introductory course for psychology undergraduates, students receive constructive feedback on their writing delivered in a format that simulates the peer review process in academia. Students learn about peer review methods and strengthen their writing.

Goals:

  • To give students practice in providing, receiving, and implementing constructive feedback on academic writing.
  • To strengthen the class community by sharing student work with peers.
  • To expose students to the practice of psychology by engaging in the peer review process.

Class: Psych 971: Sophomore Tutorial in Psychology

Introduction/Background: In this course, students interested in majoring in psychology learn about contemporary psychology research and about thinking and writing like a psychologist.  At the end of the course, they produce a 15 page research paper that proposes an experiment and discusses potential findings and implications based on existing scholarship. Once students have written a draft introduction, they engage in a small simulation of the peer review process. Students can then improve their research paper based on constructive criticism from peers.

Before Class:

  • In the beginning part of the course, students and the instructor discuss the peer review process in academia and examine a sample review. Students learn that during the peer review process, the author typically receives reviews comprised of three components: a summary of the argument presented by the author, a list of strengths, and a list of next steps. The author also receives a comment from the editor synthesizing the reviews.
  • In response to an early assignment, the instructor also writes a review of the students’ writing in this format. Students are then shown a response letter of an author to an editor to model how writers respond to the comments of the editor and reviewers. Students then reply back to the instructor’s comments using the same format.

During Class:

  • Students turn in a 4 page draft of the introduction to their final research paper. They bring either a printed copy or their laptop to class that day.
  • In class, the instructor reminds students about their previous discussion of the components of the peer review process and explains that students will give reviews to three peers using this format. Then, they will write an editorial letter to themselves to synthesize the comments they received, allowing students to reflect on and internalize the comments. The instructor emphasizes that comments should be kind, specific, and helpful, and provides examples of these comments. Note that students were given details about this activity a week prior so they know what to expect.
  • The instructor brings his own 4 page introduction to be reviewed as well. It is important that the instructor brings in real work to the workshop. This helps to reinforces the point that all writers benefit from reviewers’ feedback and that no one ever stops developing as a writer.
  • Students place their laptop or printed copy on the table in front of them, then rotate one chair to the right every 20 minutes. Students each write three reviews, then have 20 minutes to synthesize the reviews into an editorial letter to themselves. The instructor reminded the class of the time periodically.
  • At the end of class, students debriefed the experience for 20 minutes. They discussed what they learned and how they would improve their writing.

After Class: Students used the feedback they received to revise their introduction for their final paper. They also completed the same activity for their 8 page draft. At the end of the course, they produced a 15 page research paper that proposed an experiment and discussed potential findings and implications based on existing work.

Materials:

Students were given a handout explaining the three parts that their review should include (reflecting the main points of the argument, stating strengths, and stating areas for improvements) and how they should phrase their areas for improvements (kind, specific, and helpful). A link to the Harvard Writing Project page that this worksheet was based on is here; instructors can adapt this page for their own purpose.

 Students also brought their writing drafts.

Comments from the Instructor:

The benefits of this activity: according to Ronfard, “students (1) receive feedback from peers and (2) have to process this feedback. This strengthens their revising skills and helps them understand how the scientific community reviews and supports scholarship. It makes them realize that, like them, scientists have to work through a number of drafts to strenghen their writing. This activity also helps create a strong academic community in the classroom by having students be accountable to each other for the ideas they advance.”

Tips for a successful activity: the instructor wrote that, “it is important to have students be familiar with the review process. Before this activity, students had read actual reviews (I share some of the ones I received) and they had gotten a review from me that they had to address in a letter back to me. This ensured that by the time students complete reviews of other's work they were familiar with the kind of reviews I wanted them to do.”

Submitted by Samuel Ronfard, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Teaching Fellow in Psychology at Harvard College

Recipient of the Spring 2015 ABLConnect Teaching Innovator Prize