LRC, Smarthinking, Students in Class: What Can Peer Review Do for You?

In this blog, I give a pep talk for peer review, introduce USF’s CLAQWA rubric, and identify the fall 2011 LRC writing tutors.

As anyone who’s been through a WI workshop knows, I’m a fan of carefully guided peer review.  Even expert writers need feedback from readers as they draft and revise.  Discussing work in progress can engage students more deeply with the material; thinking about how a text conveys its message can building reading as well as writing skills.  Well done, peer review is a win-win assignment—creating an opportunity for student learning and smoothing papers’ roughest edges before you comment or grade.

But many of us have also had experiences when peer review failed, giving students false confidence, for instance, after a round of vacuous “good job” comments.


The key to worthwhile peer review lies in the guidance you provide.  When the University of South Florida academic assessment team piloted a structured peer review process in several courses, it made many faculty converts.  Engineering professor Ralph Fehr commented,

“When introduced to the peer review process, I was somewhat skeptical as to how much, if any, it would improve the quality of the students’ writing. I was doubtful that the results would justify the effort put into the review process. After several semesters of participation in the Peer Review Pilot Project, I have seen substantial improvement in the organization and structure of most of the essays evaluated. I have also observed an increased level of collaboration and interaction among the students in non-writing assignments, which I am confident is a result of the peer review training. I will continue to integrate the peer review process into my courses to allow my students to continue to improve their communication skills.”

USF uses a rubric called the CLAQWA.  You can get a sense of it from USF’s 2006 “Assessment Brief.”  I’m on the trail of the revised version mentioned (emails are bouncing), to post on our MUIR wiki.  You can preview it in Appendix B of Irene Suzanne Penner’s 2010 dissertation, “Comparison of Effects of Cognitive Level and Quality Writing Assessment (CLAQWA) Rubric on Freshman College Student Writing.” 

In straightforward language, the CLAQWA looks at 15 “traits,” elaborating five criteria under each one.  I leave one as an example in my outline summary below:


Level Trait 1: Assignment Requirements

Level Trait 2: Main Idea

5 The writer clearly has and maintains a main idea throughout.

4 The main idea is clear, although a rare extraneous element is introduced.

3 The paper has a main idea, but additional unrelated ideas distract the reader.

2 The main idea is not maintained or it is unclear.

1 The paper lacks a main idea or appears to reflect the writer’s “free association.”

Level Trait 3: Audience

Level Trait 4: Purpose


Level Trait 5: Opening

Level Trait 6: Coherence Devices

Level Trait 7: Paragraph Construction

Level Trait 8: Closing


Level Trait 9: Reasoning

Level Trait 10: Quality of Details

Level Trait 11: Quantity of Details


Level Trait 12: Word Choice

Level Trait 13: Comprehensibility

Level Trait 14: Sentence Construction

Level Trait 15: Point of View


Level Trait 16: Grammar and Mechanics [I don’t know why this is out of order in Penner’s appendix]

A number of peer review rubrics/guidelines are circulating on the Web, up for “citation” and adaptation.  I’m happy to go searching for a model that might work for your class.


Don’t forget the notion of “guidance” if you recommend that your students use the LRC.  You can arm your students with specific questions so that the peer tutor doesn’t have to try to make sense of the whole paper in half an hour.  Your student might say, “My professor asked me to come here to talk about my introduction … to see if my body paragraphs tie back to my thesis … to think about introducing quotes in my paper….”  Remind students to bring your written assignment with them to the LRC.

The LRC will be missing Liz Messman this fall (and moving to a trailer, temporarily, at some date TBA), but it has a great staff.  I hope to have some ongoing conversations with the writing tutors.

I met some of them at the segment of training Liz gave last week:

    1. (veteran) Erica Prong, graduate assistant in the humanities
    2. (veteran—but she’s on study abroad this fall, I believe) Erin Evans, psychology
    3. (new) Krysti Hartman, fashion merchandising
    4. (new) Anna Macedonia, art education
    5. (new) Niven McCall, history
    6. (new) Adrianne Morris, English
    7. (new) Nicholas Papadakis, politics (and philosophy, I believe he said)
    8. (new) Melany Su, biology
    9. (new) Casey Trottier, business

Also on the writing list but not at that training:

  1. (new) Rochelle Coates, graphic design (will do makeup training)
  2. (veteran) Rachael Raske, psychology (she’s done writing training before)
  3. (veteran) Cyndi Trang, biology (she’s done writing training before)

Click here for a list of the entire staff.


There’s now a tab in Blackboard that will take students to Smarthinking (no need to go through tools).  Preliminary data from last year’s pilot suggests a good result: LRC use was up slightly despite the introduction of Smarthinking’s online “e-structor” feedback, which student writers often sought when the LRC was closed.  Again, remind your students to cut and paste from your assignment (this is not the place for guesstimating!) into Smarthinking.  You may ask students to attach a copy of their feedback.

If you’re working with peer review, let me know how it goes.  And please, feed our bank of materials on the wiki!

~Sylvia, x6478


What does your syllabus say?

Like everyone else I am trying to get all my last minute class preparations done, including my syllabus, while at the same time trying to come up with a CTE blog post that would be interesting, timely and relevant.  And quick.  Then, I saw this  blog post from Maryellen Weimer’s Teaching Professor Blog. Those of you who attended Faculty Convocation may recall that Weimer has written extensively about learner-centered classrooms. Anyway, I debated whether it would be “cheating” to just repost it, but it meets ALL my criteria AND it reminds me to remind you that we have an institutional subscription to The Teaching Professor newsletter, also edited by Weimer.  So, please check out the post, titled “What does your syllabus say about you and your course” and consider subscribing to The Teaching Professor newsletter for a continuing source of interesting and thoughtful information about teaching and learning.

Instructions for how to subscribe to the newsletter are on the CTE Blackboard community site.  If you are not enrolled in the site,  click on “Community” and search for the organization Center for Teaching Excellence and join.  Or, just email us at

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