Collaborative Revision in the Writing Classroom

Much research has been conducted on peer evaluation in second language writing. While different aspects of peer evaluation have been studied, most have focused on peer revision, where peers swap texts for analysis. Hanjani (2016) looks at collaborative revision, where peers work together to revise their individual papers following teacher feedback. In his small case study, he found that there were several pedagogical and affective benefits to collaborative revision, though it is not without its challenges.

Article

Hanjani, A. M. (2015). Collaborative revision in L2 writing: Learners’ reflections. ELT Journal, 70(3), 296-307.

Background

Peer evaluation’s theoretical approach is grounded in theories of social learning. Peer evaluation is an overarching term that includes “collaborative writing, peer feedback or evaluation, and collaborative revision” (p. 296). Hanjani reviews previous research, which has pointed to a number of advantages and disadvantages of the collaborative process (p. 297).

Advantages Disadvantages
  • builds autonomy
  • increase positive attitutdes towards writing
  • reduce anxiety
  • increase confidence
  • improve analytical and evaluation skills
  • give chances for negotiation of meaning
  • context for collaborative learning
  • focus on superficial text features
  • inability to find grammatical and mechanical errors
  • inability to notice issues in content, organization, logic, and similar issues
  • distrust of peer comment accuracy
  • lack of time
  • unaccustomed to criticizing peers
  • belief in the teacher as sole authority

The Study

  • The purpose of this study was to understand the students’ perceptions of benefits, concerns, and challenges regarding collaborative revision
  • Private university in Iran (EFL context)
  • Eight female students at intermediate level
  • 90 minute classes, once a week, 15 weeks
  • First 9 weeks dedicated to the writing process
  • Last 6 weeks dedicated to the writing-collaborative revision cycle:
    • Students would draft their essays (process, compare/contrast, cause-effect) and submit to the teacher via email
    • The teacher would make comments on the text (using MS Word), print the texts and bring them to class
    • Self-selected pairs (consistent each week) worked together to revise each essay based on the comments
  • Hanjani wanted to see
  • Data was collected via interviews

Findings

Overall, the students that participated found collaborative revision to be favorable. From the interviews, Hanjani discovered two important and specific findings. One was pedagogical in nature: students felt collaborative revision “made the correction process easier” (p. 301). Students were able to use each other to help understand and address the teacher’s comments on their work. Other students felt that peer revision helped them with their general language skills, including accuracy and awareness of errors. Besides pedagogical benefits, there were affective ones as well. The collaborative revision process helped improve self-confidence in their work. They also felt less stressed about revision, as they had a partner to help them.

Notwithstanding these benefits, there were certainly some challenges. Some students felt that this revision process may ameliorate errors on an assignment, but does not help in the long term. Some had issues with addresses certain errors, even with peer help. And still others had disagreements with partner’s suggestions.

Conclusion

Overall, Hanjani feels that collaborative revision is worthwhile of both implementation and further study. The collaboration is seen as playing an important role in developing useful skills for success, and it seems based in sound theories of learning. Still, a small sample size does not necessarily prove the benefits of collaborative revision. In addition, time constraints on both teachers and students were not discussed. Nevertheless, the research does provide some insights into an aspect of general peer collaboration that is often overlooked.

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Anthony Schmidt
English language Instructor at University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Anthony Schmidt is editor of ELT Research Bites. He also has his own blog at anthonyteacher.com. Offline, he is a full-time English language instructor in a university IEP program. He is interested in all aspects of applied linguistics, in particular English for Academic Purposes.

4 thoughts on “Collaborative Revision in the Writing Classroom”

  1. Anyone interested in this area might like to check out Yu, S. & Lee, I. 2016. ‘Peer feedback in second language writing (2005 – 2014)’ Language Teaching 49 / 4: 461 – 493

  2. Hi Anthony,
    Once again thanks for the post and for raising the issue of collaborative revision. My own experience is that this could be a touchy area for many students. It raises the issue of social comparison, which is ever-present in the classroom whether we like it or not. It would be important to know what type of comments were made by the teacher as feedback on the original texts. The nature of the comments made by the teacher would be the key to whether collaborative revision is seen in a positive or negative light.

    1. I agree. This is one of the issues the author raised in the background research, though it did not surface much in the actual research results. The teacher left both content commwnt and codea for grammar/mechanics proofreading. How do you think the type of comment would affect the studenta?

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