ERIC Identifier: ED307616
Publication Date: 1989-05-00
Author: Herrmann, Andrea W.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills Bloomington IN.

Teaching Writing with Peer Response Groups. Encouraging Revision. ERIC Digest.

Teachers have turned their classrooms into communities of learners, as the focus of writing pedagogy shifts from written products to writing as a process, and as ways of making knowledge--including writing--are viewed from a collaborative or social perspective (Bruffee, 1983; Faigley, 1985). Writing instruction in our classrooms reflects a growing appreciation for the value of talk. By implementing peer writing groups, teachers encourage students to give, seek, and react to oral feedback among themselves as they write, in addition to reacting to the teacher's traditional comments on finished papers. This trend raises the interesting question of what effect peer feedback has on students' revision practices.

Respected teachers and writing theorists have fostered peer groups in high school and college classrooms as a way to encourage students to write and revise. Elbow (1973) promoted the use of "teacherless writing groups"; Murray (1982) recommended that teachers train students to respond constructively to writing in process; Macrorie (1984) discussed the value of creating a "Helping Circle"; Moffett (1983) suggested that teachers teach students to teach each other; and Bruffee (1983) maintained that getting students "to talk through" the task of writing is a form of collaborative learning that is essential. Using peer response groups, with even young writers, brings positive benefits, according to the descriptive classroom studies conducted by Graves (1983; 1984) and Calkins (1982; 1983).


Hence, writing groups, whose activity is sometimes referred to as "peer conferencing" or "peer collaboration," have become a pedagogical tool in a wide-range of teaching/learning contexts. It should be noted that teachers sometimes have peer groups respond in writing to written drafts from their fellow students. (See, for example, Wauters, 1988). But more commonly, collaboration provides writers with an opportunity to read their drafts aloud and to discuss them face-to-face with a peer audience while the written product is taking shape. Classroom talk can be a positive aspect in supporting all phases of the writing process (Reid, 1983). Small groups can help apprehensive or blocked writers become more fluent and can provide an audience that assists the writer in revising (Legge, 1980).

Research indicates that students writing without reactions from a writing group often do not anticipate an audience. A comparative study of freshman writers and professional journalists (Wootten, 1981) revealed that the journalists thought of their audience and readers more than the students did. The study concluded that students need audiences in addition to the teacher/grader. Cooperative writing workshops help students discover audience, according to one study of college freshmen (Glassner, 1983).

Some reports support the use of writing groups for encouraging revision. An ethnographic study concerned with talk in a high school classroom community examined whether writers' intuitions and revision strategies, among other things, could be "strengthened within a supportive classroom environment." (Kantor, 1984, p. 75). The study concluded that the development of a peer community fostered growth from egocentrism to audience awareness and that knowing the audience helped students become more aware of possible strategies for revising the written message.

Ziv (1983) found a pattern in the way the interaction in peer writing groups develops. Early in the semester, students' comments were primarily positive, but included some criticisms of content and form. The writers, however, did not always revise accordingly to the reactions of their peers, and sometimes resented the criticisms. Later in the semester, however, advice from peers was more likely to be heeded because rather than more general criticisms, the students offered each other concrete suggestions for revision.


Not all the studies of peer reaction show unqualified positive effects on revision, however. Some studies suggest negative consequences as well. Gere and Stevens (1985) looked at a fifth-grade writing class to determine if the oral responses provided by groups to individual writers shaped the subsequent revisions in what they were writing. The study found both positive and negative results. Student writers were challenged by their peers "to clarify, to provide more detail" (p. 95) as the peer reacters asked questions when they were confused, and suggested ways to improve the writing. Some student writers integrated their peers' suggestions into subsequent revisions. Yet there were incidents of unproductive even hostile verbal exchange, and in some groups students hurried through the group work in a "robotlike monotone."

A case study of four children with low, average, and high abilities in writing (Russell, 1985) examined the relationship between peer conferencing and revision. The results indicated that in revising, poor writers were dependent on the questions of other students, whereas average and good writers tended to become their own audience and revise on their own.

Another case study conducted with freshmen (Berkenkotter, 1983, 1984) sought to find out how students interact in their writing groups and whether writers improve their texts as a result of the interactions. The research revealed that the students' attitudes toward assistance from their peers varied considerably, as did the writers' approaches toward revision. One student, Stan, was too immature to heed his audience. Because of her sensitivity to audience, another student, Joann, became vulnerable to unwarranted criticism. Although a third student, Pat, felt responsible to his audience, he felt a greater obligation to his emerging text and revised independently of peer suggestions. The study concluded that students writing for an audience of peers as well as their teacher do not necessarily benefit from their peers'suggestions.

An experimental study (Rijlaarsdam, 1987) looked at peer feedback among 11 classes of eighth-grade students in eight Dutch schools. The control group received teacher feedback; the experimental group received peer feedback. Although the study had hypothesized that there would be more frequent evaluation and revision in the experimental group, the results showed no differences between the two.


Preliminary evidence suggests that the nature of peer collaboration and feedback in classrooms where computers are used to teach writing differs from that in regular writing classrooms. Under certain conditions, computers as writing tools appear to promote a collaborative environment, both in learning to write and in learning to use the technology (Daiute, 1986; Dickinson, 1986; Herrmann, 1985a, 1985b, 1986; Hocking and Visniesky, 1983; Selfe and Wahlstrom, 1985; Sudol, 1985).

In a classroom of first and second grade children, the computer created a whole new social organization that affected the way the children interacted (Dickinson, 1986). An ethnographic study that described a high school classroom (Herrmann 1985b, 1986) found a similar result. A variety of types of peer collaborations developed, having various kinds of influence on writing and revision; but not all students learned to collaborate successfully. The success the students had in revising their work appeared to depend, in part, on their ability to form effective collaborative relationships.

The literature suggests that the effects of peer comments on revision is not a simple cause and effect matter, but rather a complex one, dependent upon the interrelationship of multiple factors within the evolving social environment. While some of the students studied appeared to benefit from the comments of their peers, not all students in all classrooms did. Some students were unable, unwilling, or even ill-advised to follow peer reactions in revising what they had written. While there may be no one-to-one relationship between peer comments and revision, these studies, particularly the qualitative ones, suggest a range of real and potential benefits for students participating in an effective community of responsive peers.


Berkenkotter, Carol. "Student writers and their audiences: Case studies of the revising decisions of three college freshmen." Paper presented at the 16th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Council of Teachers of English, 1983. 14 pp. [ED 236 618]

Berkenkotter, Carol. "Student writers and their sense of authority over texts," College Composition and Communication, 35, (3) 1984, pp. 312-319.

Bruffee, Kenneth A. "Writing and reading as collaborative or social acts." In The Writer's Mind: Writing as a Mode of Thinking, pp. 159-169.

Janice N. Hays, et al. (Eds.) Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English, 1983. 261 pp. [ED 233 366]

Calkins, Lucy McCormick. "A study of children's rewriting." Final Report for NCTE Research Foundation project No. 80:11, 1982. 405 pp. [ED 229 750]

Calkins, Lucy McCormick. Lessons from a Child: On the Teaching and Learning of Writing. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1983. [ED 263 614; not available from EDRS]

Daiute, Colette. "Do 1 and 1 make 2? Patterns of influence by collaborative authors," Written Communication, 3, (3) 1986, pp. 382-408.

Dickinson, David K. "Cooperation, collaboration, and a computer: Integrating a computer into a first-second grade writing program," Research in the Teaching of English, 20, (4) 1986, pp. 357-378.

Elbow, Peter. Writing without Teachers. New York: Oxford, 1973. Faigley, Lester. "Nonacademic writing: The social perspective." In Writing in Nonacademic Settings, pp. 231-340. Less Odell and Dixie Goswami (Eds.) New York: Guilford Press, 1985.

Gere, Anne Ruggles, and Stevens, Ralph S. "The language of writing groups: How oral response shapes revision." In The Acquisition of Written Language: Response and Revision, Sara Warshauer Freedman (Ed.), pp. 85-105. Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex, 1985. [Ed 265 553; not available from EDRS]

Glassner, Benjamin M. "Discovering audience/inventing purpose: A case study of revision in a cooperative writing workshop." Paper presented at the 34th Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, 1983. 9 pp. [ED 227 513]

Graves, Donald H. Writing: Teachers and Children at Work. Exeter, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1983.

Graves, Donald H. A Researcher Learns to Write: Selected Articles and Monographs. Exeter, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1984.

Herrmann, Andrea W. "Collaboration in a high school computers and writing class: An ethnographic study." Paper presented at the 36th Annual Meeting of the College Composition and Communication Conference, 1985a. 19 pp. [ED 258 256]

Herrmann, Andrea W. "Using the computer as a writing tool: Ethnography of a high school writing class," Dissertation, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1985b. [Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1986, No. 86-02, 051]

Herrmann, Andrea W. "An ethnographic study of a high school writing class using computers: Marginal, technically proficient, and productive learners." In Writing at Century's End: Essays on Computer-Assisted Composition, pp. 79-91. Lisa Gerrard (Ed.) New York: Random House, 1986.

Hocking, Joan, and Visniesky, Cheryl. "Incorporating the microcomputer into the traditional English classroom." Paper presented at the 18th Annual Meeting of the Northeast Regional Conference on English in the Two-Year College, 1983. 14 pp. [ED 240 612]

Kantor, Kenneth J. "Classroom contexts and the development of writing intuitions: An ethnographic case study." In New Directions in Composition Research, pp. 72-94. New York: Guilford, 1984. [ED 250 682]

Legge, Anne L. "Small groups in college writing classes: Why and how," 1980. [ED 204 803]

Macrorie, Ken. Writing to be Read. Upper Monclair, New Jersey: Boynton/Cook, 1984. Moffett, James. Teaching the Universe of Discourse. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.

Murray, Donald. Learning by Teaching: Selected Articles on Writing and Teaching. Upper Montclair, New Jersey: Boynton/Cook, 1982. [ED 230 962; not available from EDRS]

Reid, Louann. "Talking: The neglected part of the writing process." Paper presented at the 2nd Annual Meeting of the Conference, 1983. 10 pp. [ED 229 762]

Rijlaarsdam, G. "Effects of peer evaluation on writing performance, writing processes, and psychological variables." Paper presented at the 38th Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, 1987. 39 pp. [ED 284 288]

Russell, Connie. "Peer conferencing and writing revision: A study of the relationship." Service Bulletin No. 48, Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English, 1985. 25 pp. [ED 260 392]

Selfe, Cynthia L., and Wahlstrom, Billie J. "An emerging rhetoric of collaboration: Computers and the composing process." Paper presented at the 73rd Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, 1985. 19 pp. [ED 261 384]

Sudol, Ronald A. "Applied word processing: Notes on authority, responsibility, and revision in a workshop model," College Composition and Communication, 36, (3) 1985, pp. 331-335.

Wauters, Joan K. "Non-confrontational critiquing pairs: An alternative to verbal peer response groups," Writing Instructor, 7, (3-4) 1988, pp. 156-165.

Wootten, Judith A. "Audience-based composition: The freshman writer and the professional journalist." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, 1981. [ED 199 706]

Ziv, Nina D. "Peer groups in the composition classroom: A case study." Paper presented at the 34th Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication," 1983. 11 pp. [ED 229 799]

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