It’s Worth the Struggle–The Power of Peer Reviews Using Digital Literacy Tools

Students today write like they never have before-both in print and online. Young or inexperienced writers need to both observe proficient writers at work and share in writing events in authentic and well-supported ways.

One key element to guiding students in becoming better writers is finding ways to encourage their craft while allowing them to share their thinking in multiple ways.   The ability to provide meaningful and manageable feedback should always be on our radars as educators.  What should not be on our radar is spending hours correcting every misspelling and grammatical flaw!  Rather than disheartening students and their efforts over constant revisions, let’s collectively focus in providing encouragement to young authors to rework a different component, such as their lead or varying transitions. We can accomplish this right now in leveraging digital literacy tools like myON.  Let’s make the reading/writing bond even stronger through powerful peer editing. For when it’s done correctly, it can be the most powerful element throughout the writing process.

Unless students are blogging(which they should be!), they are probably writing to a one-member audience in mind: their teacher. Boring! When young authors keep an audience in mind beyond a single person while also participating in focused peer review interactions, students can offer productive feedback, accept constructive criticism, and master revision. A brief disclaimer before moving forward: not all students are receptive to peer reviews! It makes perfect sense.  Depending on the existing classroom culture, students may be abrasive to the idea of having peers read their work and assess it. So, take caution, but more importantly, empathize with their feelings and “show them the way” through meaningful and authentic interactions with their classmates and through the use of digital literacy tools.  Whether or not peer reviews are successful or not in class partly depends on if their peers can help them see the benefits, and the importance of the process.

In the image above, a Writing Task has been added to a project that is asking students to take a dive into some nonfiction texts with a focus on the structure used by the author. The stated objective included some guiding questions to help frame the task for the students. For this particular Project the Writing Task is the final piece, the assessment item that will help guide future instruction for the teacher while also providing feedback to the student in terms of growth. Here is where the writing task can become more than just a task: enabling the Peer Review feature!

Using peer review strategies, students will learn to reflect on their own work, self-edit, listen to their peers, and assist others with constructive feedback. It also becomes a more authentic route to ask students to revisit their work multiple times before stamping it as a polished, published piece of writing.  By guiding peer editing, educators will establish some key expectations: this is important, you can do it, and I won’t give up on you (even if you give up on yourself).

Real, authentic literacy growth can only occur in a community of learners who make meaningful connections. Peer review facilitates this type of social interaction and collaboration that is vital for student learning.

Billy Spicer


Billy currently teaches in Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in suburban Chicago. After spending a decade teaching 3rd thru 5th grades, Billy served students and teachers as an instructional coach. He recently spent time in the Bahamas with the Shedd Aquarium where he lived on a research vessel for a week conducting scientific inquiry. Prior to teaching in Lake Zurich he worked at Walt Disney World as a member of the Animal Programs department in entertaining, educating, and inspiring conservation action. He facilitates a passion for literacy, passionate learning, and social media to discover creative ways for students to meet their individual learning needs. Authentic and purposeful technology integration is a non-negotiable aspect in providing students with the tools to be successful. Billy earned his BA in Elementary Education at Illinois State University and a MA in Literacy and Reading from Benedictine University. He also enjoys hot dogs, coffee, and his ever growing collection of records. To learn more about his interests and passions in and out of the classroom, follow him on Twitter-@MrBillySpicer