Anonymous peer editing fosters soft skills, improves classroom culture
- When 8th-grade English teacher Karen McDonald tells her students they're going to peer edit each other's assignments, she usually doesn't get a very positive response — but that changed the day she decided to do things a little differently and have students edit their peers' papers anonymously, she writes for EdSurge.
- McDonald writes that peer editing, which usually consisted of pairs swapping papers, was a challenge among many students, whoe were uncomfortable with giving feedback to a partner, didn't know what to look for or what to comment, and had outside factors like social media — where no one has to talk face to face — working against their ability to communicate and collaborate effectively.
- The anonymous peer review exercise made students not only more relaxed, but they were also more excited to comment on their classmates' assignments and read their own critiques. This, along with instruction on how to give appropriate and constructive feedback, led to students putting in more effort to improve their papers and asking McDonald if they could do the exercise again in the future.
When well-executed, peer editing can have important effects on students: For one, it can help empower them and give them confidence and ownership in what they're doing. It can also better their writing and editing skills and teach them to be critical thinkers and analyzers as they complete assignments across a variety of topics. But the effects stretch even further — this kind of exercise can also work to promote SEL, soft skills and a more positive and productive classroom culture.
Incorporating peer engagement into the classroom experience goes hand-in-hand with fostering core SEL skills. It bolsters self-awareness, as students can understand what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what they can do to grow, while developing a sense of optimism in doing so. It can boost self-management by increasing their motivation to appropriately comment on peers' papers and improve their own, as well as by setting goals and managing their stress in completing them. And it can affect decision-making skills — analysis, evaluation and reflection, to name a few.
Peer editing can also boost interpersonal SEL skills, including social awareness and relationship building. Respecting others' work, appreciating multiple perspectives, and communicating face-to-face are all foundational skills that help make students well-rounded individuals poised to succeed past their academic careers.
At McDonald's school and many others across the country, students can't use their phones in the classroom, but many have their devices back in their hands soon after the bell rings. Texting, instant messaging and social media platforms mean students are connected practically 24/7 — but none are helping to foster their communication or collaboration skills. In fact, they're doing just the opposite. By incorporating peer learning into the school experience, students will have an opportunity to acquire and practice essential traits.
SEL is a crucial part of improving and maintaining a positive school culture. If students feel connected, supported and nurtured, they're more likely to exhibit better behavior and higher achievement levels. It also helps teachers, who, in turn, may feel less stressed and more positive about their jobs. Tasks like peer editing may seem small in scale, but in the end, they can have notable effects.
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