Review: Peer Editing

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By Sophie Sparrow from University of New Hampshire School of Law

Cassandra Hill, Peer Editing: A Comprehensive Pedagogical Approach to Maximize Assessment Opportunities, Integrate Collaborative Learning, and Achieve Desired Outcomes, 11 Nevada Law Journal 667 (2011) [Read fulltext (1.1 MB PDF)] (Reprint courtesy of WestLaw)

I have never met a lawyer who said that students and new lawyers were proficient writers. Instead, when asked how we can make our students more “practice ready,” they beg us to improve our students’ ability to write clear, concise, organized prose. As anyone who has ever sought to teach legal writing well knows, this goal is an enormous challenge. Learning how to write well takes a long time. Teaching writing demands huge amounts of time and energy. If we can infuse writing exercises and feedback throughout the curriculum, however, we could dramatically improve our students’ chances of meeting the demands of their future clients and colleagues. But how do we improve students’ writing in a way that is manageable and sustainable?

Cassandra Hill has a solution: engage students in effective peer review assignments. “Peer editing, in combination with a broad array of teaching strategies, is an excellent means of incorporating additional assessment measures and opportunities for student feedback in law school courses.” The benefits of peer editing are significant. “By devoting time to structure a comprehensive and effective peer-editing exercise, professors will be rewarded as students improve their writing skills, increase their confidence levels, develop strong peer relationships, and perceive the writing process as a positive and useful experience.” In her article, Professor Hill brings a structured approach to peer editing that can be used in any course.

Building upon the literature of writing across the curriculum, collaborative learning, and assessment, Professor Hill first describes the many benefits of peer editing for law students. Then she provides explicit guidance on how to design effective peer editing assignments, inviting professors “to approach the assignment in stages: (1) planning, (2) the “pitch” and training, (3) implementation, and (4) assessment.” For each of these stages, Professor Hill explains not just what to do, and why do it, but how to do it. As with any complex teaching method, the devil is in the details – figuring out exactly how to make the method work in a class. Professor Hill thoughtfully addresses these, discussing different approaches to issues such as forming peer editing partners or groups, preparing checklists, allowing sufficient time, training students, and assessing the peer editing assignments. Using examples from her own courses, and including exercises, critique sheets and a sample checklist, Professor Hill gives us a road map to sustainably infuse more writing throughout the curriculum.

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