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Reciprocal critiquing exercise for tutorials
This is my description of an exercise I feel is good, and have run many times
with level 3 tutorial groups here at Glasgow, in Psychology, as have a least a
couple of other tutors. It goes particularly well with supporting
This document is written as if I were talking to tutors, but there is no
reason why students should not organise and do this themselves. See also
There are also some studies of this:
and a talk: abstract,
It requires making each student come with a piece of old work (e.g.
an essay) and have students critique each others' work. Afterwards (not
before!) they say how valuable it was for at least these reasons:
- Learners see how differently other students write: most are quite unaware
of the variety of different "good" ways there are of doing something, and any
group usually illustrates this well. Seeing other students' work is much more
convincing that hearing some tutor say this.
- Each learner must acquire the ability to judge quality if only to regulate
their own writing production. We should give them direct explicit practice,
if not teaching, at this.
- Furthermore, this gives them insight into what it is like to play the
tutor's role of having to judge another's work.
- Learners experience the usefulness of getting feedback from peers, as an
apprenticeship preparing them to make this a standard part of their practice
independently of staff: they will achieve better coursework quality if they do
what most academics do and get local feedback.
- If they are going to do this, they need to practise giving useful feedback
to be any use to others in return for the same service.
- Critical reviews are often interesting and useful to other students for
their content alone when they are on exam-related topics. It is worth students
asking around and reading others' reviews as part of extending their
coursework. However this benefit will not be apparent to students from this
exercise if they have all done a CR on the same topic (to make it easier for
the tutor), and when they are stuck in the same group all year (to make it
easier for the class administration).
Everyone produces something from their files e.g. their last submitted piece
of work; two others get to read and comment on it; the rules are: always say
what is best and worst about it (not just one or the other), minimum is a
comment on it overall, better is a separate best and worst for each
section, better still is best/worst with respect to each of the assessment
criteria for that piece of work, a useful extension is to suggest a mark/grade
for the work.
One version of instructions for participants is
You can download (and edit) a prompt sheet here.
Reading two pieces each is probably as much work as is both useful and not too
More practical detail
- Everyone selects their piece to be critiqued. Can be either paper or
re-printed from their files, but it is best if it doesn't have a tutor's
comments on it already. Make sure it has the writer's name on it.
- Get each person to write on the cover what feedback they would most like
to get e.g. "was my argument clear?", "how else could I have been critical?",
- Organise the cycle of critiquing e.g.
(If some of the work was joint, or on similar topics, it may be worth designing
this cycle so everyone is reading something new to them; and/or so that people
with different interests or expertise are coupled as critics of a given piece.)
- Kathryn -> Richard, Gavin
- Rhiannon-> Clare, Steve
- Richard-> Steve, Gavin
- Steve-> Rhiannon, Clare
- Clare-> Kathryn, Rhiannon
- Gavin-> Kathryn, Richard
- Arrange to meet for half an hour to do the photocopying, and distribution.
- Issue a clear instruction about the comments to generate before they do
the reading and/or give them a comment sheet pro forma to use. E.g.
"The absolute minimum is to produce, for the two papers assigned you, two
points: the thing you liked best about the paper, and the thing you thought
worst (preferably with a suggestion about how to do it better). Better, is to
produce best and worst points for each section separately, plus for the paper
as a whole. In addition, or as part of that, suggestions about other WAYS the
paper could have been critical."
- Decide whether students should additionally suggest a mark/grade for the work.
- Decide whether critics should additionally mark the printout of the essay
direction for typos etc, in addition to the higher level overall comments.
- On the feedback day, go round the group, asking for the two oral pieces of
feedback for each piece of work in turn. If necessary prompt for both
positive and negative from each person. If the tutor is producing comments,
s/he should speak after the other critic(s) of the piece.
- Optionally, get the recipient to say what was and wasn't helpful about the
comments i.e. critique the critique by again saying what was best and worst
- End with a few minutes discussing what (if anything) they found useful
about the exercise.
- I then say: if you found it useful, then you could do this again with
your current assignment by organising this reciprocal critiquing before
handing in your final version. If you want to do this, it means finishing a
full version one week earlier, and putting this in your diaries now.
My last several groups have done this, and carried it out in due course.
Tutor join in critiquing?
One way to do it is for the tutor to join in completely, and contribute a
piece of work for critiquing. This is good for the tutor's soul, particularly
the first time of running the exercise, but the difficulty is finding a piece
of writing the students can and will comment on usefully. If the tutor has
recently written a handout or notice for students, this might be a good
Another approach for tutors nervous in another way, is for them to try and
read and produce comments on all the pieces of work. This soothes a nervous
fear that no comments will be produced, but gives the tutor much more work
than the others. Without this, the exercise can scale over quite a range of
different group sizes.
The lazy and disorganised, but professional-seeming, tutor will take a copy
of all the pieces, but only read a few depending on whim and time.
Best and worst
I like asking for comments on both the best and worst aspects as it goes a
long way to producing balanced comments, and avoiding both students who think
"critiquing" means being negative, and those who feel that politeness means
they should only be positive. You can usually tell an overall assessment
without it being stated from the relative strength of the best and the worst
comment produced. And both of course are useful: negative comments tell you
what needs changing, positive comments tell you what to retain and repeat.
You could call them "what to keep and what to change" instead of best and
An alternative to this is to ask for stop/start/continue comments:
Note that "best/worst" is asking for judgements on what was written,
while "stop/start/continue" is asking for specifications for what should change
i.e. for constructive comments only. Constructive comments are always more
useful to the recipient, but not always possible to give. We can always say
whether we are unhappy, almost always where in the writing or what is making
us unhappy, usually why it makes us unhappy, but only sometimes what should be
done to change it.
- Stop i.e. what is bad and should be stopped
- Start i.e. what was omitted and should be added
- Continue i.e. what was good and should be retained
More elaborate specifications for writing feedback can be found
However these are not likely to be appropriate for a simple introductory
exercise like the above.
Giving the feedback face to face
The first time this is done, it is best to deliver the feedback face to face
in a group, not privately; even though they will probably have written it out
on the comment sheets. There are multiple advantages of this:
- It is harder to be rude face to face than in writing
- In any case, the tutor will be there to moderate any such tendency, but
also to prevent vacuous politeness: and so to establish the productive tone
for this new kind of conversation.
- It is valuable when a more general conversation ensues on some point,
including the whole group. This will probably happen to some extent.
- It is valuable for authors to hear comments that other authors receive:
it brings up points that they might not have received, and illuminates ones
they did by adding a wider perspective.
- It ends up bonding the group further, as joint tasks generally do.
A variation is to require students also to propose a mark or grade for the
piece of work they are commenting on. This is mainly of benefit to the critic.
Although students find it stressful to mark each others' work, it is in fact
very useful as a step towards understanding and exercising standards.
Giving feedback on spelling etc.
It is worth including feedback on spelling and language. It is what I always
do for colleagues, and there's no other provision for this low level feedback
for students. This is best done by marking a copy of the essay, so paper
copies may be best for this.
Time management consequences
Could end with punching home the time management message:
Investigations have suggested that the most crucial failing in students' time
management is grasping the most basic idea of working back from the deadline
to the implied time needed for component actions. I.e. students have to grasp
and act on two notions:
- Do you think getting such peer critiques would help you improve your
- (if yes) so what does that mean about setting yourself deadlines for
finishing your next piece of coursework? Yes, finish a week early.
- Get out the course handbook, look up the deadline, work back a week, put
it in your diary.
- Also you need to get your pal to commit to commenting in advance, even
though they may themselves be panicking over the same deadline.
- A task (e.g. writing an essay) is NOT an indivisible activity but has
- Each subtask must be assigned a different time, calculating back
from the overall deadline.
"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started
is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and
then starting on the first one."
If you want to follow up this exercise with more, then the next steps might
- Aim for better quality feedback: see
- Require the feedback (and marks/grades) to be submitted in writing; and
then have the recipient critique the critiques for clarity and utility.
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