Q&A: How to Give Effective Peer Feedback

My partner does the bare bones in her assignments and I'm required to provide feedback on them. I'm generally encouraging, but I get the sense she feels that she's too busy and doesn't need to put her all in. Believe me, we're all busy. Should I continue with the encouraging route?

Answer: I wish I had a good clear answer. Unfortunately, what you should do depends on the situation.

If you are graded on how well you give feedback, you should keep giving detailed feedback, even if it means you participate in this unbalanced situation. (Even if your primary goal is to give feedback to your peer, your larger goal is to do well in the course.)

If you aren't being graded on your feedback, are you learning from giving it? Does taking apart a peer's rough drafts help you see what is wrong with yours? If that's the case, then keep giving generously. Are you going to have to work with this partner in a group situation? Meaning, is the peer feedback a stepping stone to something larger? If so, keep giving generously, both to lay the foundation for successful team work and to raise the quality of your peer's work, so you won't have to suffer from it.

In each of these cases, I'd do one other thing: I'd open a dialogue with my peer. I'd ask if the comments I shared were useful. If they were, I'd ask the other person if she would share similar comments with me, to help me improve my writing. I'd do this for several reasons. Sometimes in a peer review situation, your peer doesn't want the help, so you're wasting your time. Sometimes the other person appreciates your help, but doesn't feel confident enough in her abilities to return the favor. And sometimes, your partner is out of touch: she thinks she is giving you just what you're giving her. And if you don't get good answers, or if you're not learning or it isn't grading, drop your level of effort immediately. Don't waste time and energy in a situation like this.

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.