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Peer response

February 19, 2007

Hello again,

I wrote recently when talking about accelerated learning of the importance of establishing a cooperative group atmosphere. The need for this is essential for a school thinking of setting up peer-response activities to help writing skills. Peer-response activities...

...have been shown to have several benefits in English language learning: they add to the cohesiveness of the group; they help the process of self-reflection and contribute to learner independence. The importance of peer response is that helps the process of writing, whereas typical teacher-led activities focus more on product. However, before I discuss that, I stress the importance of establishing the right setting.

The students need to have real confidence in their teacher. This suggests that it is better to work with a class that has been working together for some time and already has a good relationship with the teacher. The class also needs to have proper preparation, stage that will depend very much on the cultural background of the learners. Students from high power distance backgrounds, in which the teacher is a respected leader, or those that place a lot of value on face-saving and extreme indirectness, will need to have to understand very clearly the significance and value of the peer-response approach.

As part of the preparation, the teacher should proceed gradually, incorporating small steps and perhaps beginning with anonymous comment until the students feel ready to embark on a full exercise. For example the writing process involves several steps: idea gathering (brainstorming), drafting, rewriting and editing. Peer response could be fed in stage by stage, with students perhaps first co-operating just on the idea-gathering stage. This will allow them to experience the benefits of exploring with each other their ideas without any teacher judgement. As they gain acceptance of working together, the involvement of peers can be increased until they experience the full range of benefits: cognitive, social, linguistic and practical.

One of the dangers of peer response is that it may seem unstructured so it is important for the teacher to devise guided response sheets to help students learn the peer-response skills they need. Thus, the feedback could be handled in different phases for different attributes: a session for essay structure, one for grammatical accuracy, one for vocabulary and so forth. It is also important to ensure that students are working in groups that cohere well and where mutual trust exists.

As the students experience this form of cooperative working, the teachers should elicit their reactions: what benefits do they perceive, what problems do they encounter, how does this help them revise and improve their work, how does it help them gain confidence and independence?

To learn more about successful peer-response in the ELT classroom, I recommend the book, Peer Response in Second Language Writing Classrooms, Jun Liu and Jette G. Hansen (University of Michigan press, 2002).

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  1. Mark Says:

    I am an ESL tutor/teacher in New Mexico. Presently I work in a volunteer program called Mission Literacy. I was wondering if it is possible to get grants for supplies and maybe incomes. Mission Literacy is pretty new in my hometown of Albuquerque. But we are expanding. Does anybody have any ideas?

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