Teaching students to read and comment on each other’s work

I am visiting at Fordham Law School this semester and will teach an Advanced Copyright Law Seminar.  We’ll read and comment on various scholarly articles.  We’ll also discuss some cases, reform proposals, the Orphan Works Report, and other items.  I am having the students write brief (1-page) reviews of articles (one brief review per class) and a more detailed review of one article.  And, of course, the students are writing seminar papers.

Here is what I am doing that may be a bit different and challenging:  I am asking the students to write brief reviews of each student’s draft and a more detailed review of one student draft.  For the brief reviews, I would like the student reviewers to identify and examine the student author’s thesis and provide constructive advice.  For the more substantial review, I would like the student reviewer to identify and critically evaluate the student author’s thesis, arguments, and examples.  Again, the idea is to encourage the reviewer to be critical and constructive.  As I indicate in the syllabus, “Your objective is to help the student author improve his or her paper.  Ideally, each criticism will be accompanied by a constructive suggestion.”

I’ll admit that I am both excited and nervous about how well this will work.  I think the skills involved with reading and commenting on a colleague’s written work are very important to legal practice and other endeavors, and this exercise should give the students some practice in developing those skills.  But I do wonder whether there may be pitfalls that I am failing to anticipate.

Any suggestions?  Is something that you have tried (as a professor or student)?  If so, did it work well or not?  Why or why not?

3 thoughts on “Teaching students to read and comment on each other’s work

  1. I haven’t done this, Brett, though it seems like a great idea.
    One thing occurs to me: I think lots of legal writing profs have students comment on other students’ writing. Perhaps it worth checking in with some of them for tips …

  2. Brett,

    Thanks for staring this discussion. During a lunch some folks at LSA in Berlin talked about ways to have law school classes provide more interaction and feedback during a semester. Having several writing events came up as a possibility. One issue that you may want to address is anonymity or not for the students. Will they know whose work they are reading? The nature of the class discussion may lend itself to knowing, but one might use a random number generator and assign numbers to keep the reviews blind or semi-blind. My old firm, Quinn Emanuel, was ruthless about writing but also fair in that even as a first year I felt comfortable editing and commenting even on a name partner’s brief. Students, however, may not have concerns and fears about peers looking at their work. It is something to overcome, but at the classroom stage anonymous review may have benefits.

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