The purpose of this study is to analyze the effects of peer feedback on writing, including the positive effects such as increasing grammatical accuracy and enriching the content and the negative effect such as providing meaningless advice of peer feedback. After reading a number of papers, the major points have been summarized and discussed. Plenty of literature reveals that peer feedback indeed owns some defects. Nevertheless, the benefits of peer feedback outweigh the defects. Therefore, peer feedback can be applied to writing classes to help students improve their writing as long as they receive professional training in advance and adopt the most appropriate way.
Key words: peer feedback; writing; review
1.1 Definition of Peer Feedback
Peer feedback, which is also known as peer review, peer response, peer editing, and peer evaluation, can be defined as "use of learners as sources of information and interactants for each other is such a way that learners assume roles and responsibilities normally taken on by a formally trained teacher, tutor, or editor in commenting on and critiquing each other's drafts in both written and oral formats in the process of writing" (Liu and Hansen, 2002:1). The basic principle of peer feedback is elaborated by Vygotsky's theory of social culture. Vygotsky (1978) states that one's mental development is accompanied by his/her interaction with the outside world. He highlights that learning is not an activity which can be accomplished by an individual, but a cognitive process that relies on the interaction in the social context. Thus, peer feedback is crucial to one's improvement of learning abilities, because it provides opportunities for learners to interact and share their ideas with others.
1.2 Purpose of Study
Writing is not only a product, but also a process. In other words, writing is both the physical and the mental work of generating ideas, considering how to express the ideas, and organizing the ideas logically into sentences that can be clearly understood by readers (Sokolik, 2005). As a way of communication, writing is always regarded as a significant skill in people's daily and professional life. However, students often find that composing in English is tough because English writing requires both linguistic abilities and divergent thinking (Rao, 2007). Hence, how to improve students' writing becomes a cardinal issue in English learning.
Recently, it is claimed by many researchers that peer feedback has the potential to be an effective method to improve students' writing. Some scholars believe that peer feedback is beneficial because it helps to increase grammatical accuracy and develop the content of writing. Whereas, other scholars argue that peer feedback is not useful for improving students' writing because peers often give meaningless advice. Since the influence of peer feedback is controversial, the goal of this study is to analyze the advantages such as raising grammatical accuracy and enriching the content and the disadvantage such as offering meaningless advice of peer feedback. On the basis of a great number of researches conducted by many scholars, to a large extent, peer feedback possesses the strengths which promote writing ability. However, meanwhile, the weaknesses of peer feedback are so prominent that cannot be ignored. In order to make up for its drawbacks, various solutions have been proposed. According to Zhang (2012), receiving training in advance will contribute to the success of peer feedback. In addition, being applied in the way which caters for students' preferences is also vital for adoptable peer feedback.
Ⅱ. Literature Review
2.1 Increasing Grammatical Accuracy
If students obtain peer feedback, they will have a better writing performance because peers are able to help increase grammatical accuracy.
According to Yangin (2012), the purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of peer review on EFL students' academic writing performance. The participants were 46 students at a state university in Turkey, and they were separated into two groups. One group of students received training on peer feedback and then they worked through peer revision, while the other group received teacher feedback. The results indicated that among the total of 1235 grammatical corrections, 986 corrections were made by the students. In addition, 57.25% of all changes that the students made were pointed out by peers. Furthermore, the students showed willingness to accept their peers' comments. In this study, it shows that learners can rely on peers to improve their written work because of peers' capacity of helping increase grammatical accuracy.
Besides, according to Mamuna and Tahira (2012), the purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of peer feedback on writing and the students' attitudes towards peer feedback. The participants were 100 students from five government schools in Bahawalpur. The results revealed that the grammatical errors could be recognized by peers such as spelling, tense, and translation problems. Furthermore, the learners mostly corrected their mechanical mistakes after peer feedback. At the same time, the students showed positive attitudes towards peer feedback. In the study, it is obvious that learners are capable of making grammatical revisions. Thus, peers' comments indeed help them improve their writing because of less grammatical errors.
2.2 Enriching the Content
Except increasing grammatical accuracy, the second positive effect of peer feedback is enriching the content.
According to Hu and Lam (2010), the purpose of this study was to investigate whether peer feedback was effective for adult Chinese students in the second language academic writing. The participants were 20 ESL Chinese students in a Singapore university. The results displayed a great improvement in revised drafts. Actually, 80% of the participants preferred peer reviews and they appreciated the various viewpoints offered by peers. They also believed that they could learn a lot from the way in which their peers looked at the problem. From this study, it can be concluded that students are able to improve their writing through receiving different opinions from their peers because these ideas help enrich the content.
Moreover, according to McGarrell (2010), the purpose of this research was to investigate how native and non-native English speaking student teachers explored the effectiveness of peer feedback. The participants were graduate students in a North American university. These 54 participants were asked to hand in their first drafts, take part in class discussion, and respond to two questionnaires. The results indicated that 83% of the native English speaking students and 92% of the non-native English speaking students believed peer feedback would help them improve their writing. Besides, many students who were interviewed showed their preference for peers' comments on account of the help to clarify the ideas. From the study, it can be concluded that if students receive peer feedback, they will gain writing improvements because peers can help them figure out what they exactly want to express and how to elaborate their ideas clearly. Thus, the content of the written work can be enriched in this way.
2.3 Giving Meaningless Advice
In contrast, some scholars argue that peer feedback cannot help students improve their writing because peers often give meaningless advice.
According to Bijami, Kashef, and Nejad (2013), the purpose of this research was to briefly summarize some of the advantages and disadvantages of peer feedback in second language writing. The research was conducted in a secondary school in Hong Kong. The researchers selected 27 Chinese students who later were engaged in writing practices. During the process, the students were asked to create their drafts and then revise them according to the written and oral peer comments. The results showed that the students considered the teacher's comments (5.30) much more useful than peers' comments (3.64) based on accuracy and explicitness. Besides, the majority of the students did not believe that peers' comments could guarantee the quality. From the study, it can be concluded that peer feedback is unhelpful for improving writing because peers often offer ambiguous and inaccurate advice that cannot be adopted.
Furthermore, according to Hu and Ren (2010), the purpose of the study was to analyze the causes of the students' unfavorable attitudes toward peer feedback and to offer strategies to change peer feedback into a productive activity. The participants were 11 students in an advanced ESL writing class in a U.S. university. During the research process, the students took a 10-week writing course and gave others comments through performing the written texts. The results indicated that more than half of the students preferred teacher feedback and considered the teacher as an expert in finding problems. At the same time, the majority of the students found that their peers often focused on unimportant issues and offered useless advice. From the study, it can be concluded that peer feedback fails to help students improve their writing because of the peers' unspecific and neutral advice that cannot help make revisions.
Peer feedback is one of the useful ways which help improve students' writing performances, but there are still a number of people who question the effectiveness of peer feedback. Hence, the purpose of the study is to investigate the merits such as promoting grammatical accuracy and enriching the content and the demerit such as giving meaningless advice of peer feedback.
First, the use of peer feedback is beneficial for students' writing because peers are able to find out grammatical errors in the essays and make effective revisions (Badger, Yang, & Yu, 2006; Mamuna & Tahira, 2012; Mei & Yuan, 2010; Yangin, 2012). I personally agree with this point of view. Due to the heavy workload of teachers, they cannot spend much time reading hundreds of papers, finding out every superficial error, and making corrections. Therefore, teachers often pay attention to the structure and the content of students' writing, but they leave out many small grammatical errors between the lines. As such, peer feedback can obviously play a helpful part. Actually, people are good at finding faults with others. When we resort to peers to revise our work, they tend to notice more grammatical mistakes that we are not aware of.
My teacher once applied peer feedback to our writing class when we were sophomore students. At the beginning of the semester, she assigned us into groups with four or five people. After that, we were asked to compose an essay every week on the basis of a given topic and hand in the essays to a certain group before the deadline. This group was supposed to revise the other students' writings and give written comments under their work. Afterwards, this group would make a presentation in class in order to demonstrate what they had learned. Finally, we revised our essays according to the comments and handed them in to our teacher. The results indicated that we indeed gained a lot during the process. Our grammatical accuracy had been greatly increased and we tended to pay more attention to grammar when we wrote. Thus, students' writing can be improved by peer feedback because it helps enhance grammatical accuracy.
Second, using peer feedback can improve students' writing because students are exposed to diverse points of view. In this way, they are able to learn others' various ways to express the ideas clearly (Ho & Savignon, 2007; Hu & Lam, 2010; McGarrell, 2010; Zhang, 2008). I definitely agree with this view. Undoubtedly, as ESL students, our English abilities are limited. We sometimes attempt to elaborate a particular idea in our essays by piling up plenty of vacuous words and phrases, but the readers still cannot understand what we try to express. Conveying ideas clearly is a kind of ability that should be strengthened little by little through reading and practicing. When we revise other students' papers, we learn from their expressions at the same time. Specifically, we study how our peers organize the words logically, how they elaborate the ideas in details, and how they make persuasive opinions. Moreover, we often find that our perspectives are restricted and repeated when we analyze an issue. Our work is likely to be colorless if we always focus on those common perspectives. In this instance, peer feedback can offer diverse ideas which are creative and profound. According to these clear, concrete, and original points of view from peers, we are able to enrich the content of our essays and thus, our writing will be improved.
Finally, students' writing will not be improved through peer feedback because students often offer ambiguous, unspecific, and neutral advice that cannot help revise (Bijami, Kashef, & Nejad, 2013; Hu & Ren, 2010). I certainly disagree with this view. Peers sometimes give meaningless advice because they do not thoroughly understand what the author would like to express or they do not know how to give useful comments. Peers' incapability of offering suggestive advice can be attributed to the limited knowledge of the target language (Hu, 2005). Under the negative influence of this limitation, students may have problems in giving constructive feedback when reviewing peers' writings and in identifying valid feedback from peers when revising their own work (Tsui & Ng, 2000). Sometimes, this limitation of competence even leads to mistrust between peer reviewers (Hyland, 2000).
Besides, they perhaps do not take peer feedback seriously or they just lack of confidence so that they are afraid to give comments face to face. However, as long as students receive helpful training for peer feedback in advance and they adopt the appropriate way to carry out this activity, peer feedback still can be an effective method to improve students' writing. Therefore, although some scholars argue that peer feedback is not useful for improving students' writing because peers often give meaningless advice, I firmly insist that peer feedback is a beneficial method as long as we make good use of it.
Since writing is a way to communicate with the outside world, it plays a significant role in people's life. Nevertheless, most English learners find that mastering excellent writing skills is quite challenging. Nowadays, many researchers suggest that peer feedback is an effective method to improve students' writing. They believe that peer feedback helps promote grammatical accuracy and enrich the content of writing. However, other researchers argue that peer feedback is not helpful for students' writing because students are not capable of giving meaningful advice. As the availability of peer feedback is debatable, the goal of this research is to investigate the advantages such as enhancing grammatical accuracy and enriching the content and the disadvantage such as offering meaningless advice of peer feedback. A great deal of literature on peer feedback demonstrates that peer feedback certainly owns many benefits and some defects in the meantime.
I personally agree that peer feedback can raise grammatical accuracy and enrich the content of writing, but I do not observe that peers' comments will not help revise because peers usually provide meaningless advice. In reality, the effectiveness of peer feedback can be improved by receiving useful training and being applied in the appropriate way. Actually, before putting peer feedback into practice, students have to receive a period of corresponding training for it. To be precise, they must understand what aspects they are supposed to notice, how to correct various errors, and what they should mention in the comments. In addition, peer feedback can be adopted in different ways. For instance, the students who cannot do well in expressing themselves choose to take part in group discussions to explain and exchange the ideas; the students who are afraid to offer comments face to face can give written comments instead. Hence, as long as we make good use of peer feedback, it will definitely help improve students' writing.
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Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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