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Office of University Writing

Office of The Provost


Office of University Writing

Office of The Provost

Strengthening Student Learning with Formal Peer Review, featuring Amy Rauer

As Associate Clinical Professor of Communication Disorders Laura Willis notes, students see great benefit in peer review once they have been guided to do this work well. Last month we considered teaching peer review by guiding an in-class peer review process. This month we turn to another way of guiding the process of peer review: having students complete the review as a homework assignment, a structure Amy Rauer from Human Development and Family Studies has used with great success.

Since academic work regularly goes through peer review before being published, most faculty members understand this process well. Students, however, probably don’t, so when we ask them to do a peer review without providing specific directions or modeling the process, we – and they – are often disappointed in the results. Why not make use of this well-known structure to guide students in doing peer review more successfully? The key is, as Amy Rauer’s assignment illustrates, to lay out each step and help students use the process to improve their own writing and that of their classmates. Here’s how Dr. Rauer explains the assignment in her syllabus and here’s how she explained the process last year at the Conversations in Celebration of Teaching poster event.

Two elements of Dr. Rauer’s process strike us as being especially effective. First, she emphasizes that the point of the review is to make the content stronger rather than merely cleaning up sentence-level errors. This puts student reviewers in a position where they can use what they are learning in the course to help each other write a stronger paper and lets them function as readers, which they are, rather than as grammar experts, which they most likely are not. Second, student writers are required to write a summary letter when they submit their final versions explaining how they have addressed their reviewers concerns. Writing such a summary not only ensures that students have actually considered each of the reviewers’ comments, but also that they have made intentional choices as authors about what to do with those comments. As Dr. Fergus pointed out in last month’s introductory video, and as Dr. Rauer repeats in her interview this month, authors are still responsible for their own work and don’t have to take a reviewer’s advice, but they need to be able to explain why they are making the choices they make. Such a letter is also useful to instructors as they start to evaluate the final paper because it can give us a window into the student author’s thinking.

Both of these elements help students learn to work on their own writing, of course, but both are also additional learning experiences that come as a result of doing the peer review itself. In other words, peer review isn’t just a way for faculty to get better papers from students, though that happens too. Instead, as anyone who has been a reviewer can attest, doing a peer review is a powerful learning experience. No wonder students report that when faculty assign peer review and think through how to make that process meaningful, they learn more than when they are asked to peer review with little or no guidance.

What’s your approach to using peer review or helping students to offer better comments to peers? Do you have an assignment, tool, or strategy to share with others?
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