The Writing and Rhetoric Program strongly encourages Middlebury faculty to use and teach effective peer review practices in college-writing (CW) classes.

The information and tools below are designed specifically for faculty, and much of it includes information that was collaboratively developed across centers, programs, and departments at Middlebury.

None of the materials are intended to be prescriptive but can be borrowed and adapted as desired.

Ten Practices for Teaching 2nd-Level College Writing

  1. Be intentional and transparent in creating writing assignments: determine clear objectives for each assignment (for example: sophisticated engagement with secondary literature; synthesis of ideas; following disciplinary conventions and/or other conventions).
  2. Consider whether or not and how your assignments invite students to wrestle with the “big ideas” in your field(s).
  3. Contextualize writing objectives within the liberal arts environment: are the objectives discipline-specific, typical across an academic division, and/or interdisciplinary in nature? How do they adhere to, combine or depart from particular genres? 
  4. Identify/Define for students the audience(s) for each writing assignment.
  5. Describe/break down particular features of the expected writing and/or provide students with models of high and low end work. Isolate/excerpt one or two features to discuss at a given time (introductions, literature review, point of view, conclusions, etc).
  6. Know your “end” goal for their writing in not only a particular assignment but for the course; sequence assignments accordingly.
  7. Identify and discuss, where appropriate, relationships between writing process and product.
  8. Involve students at some point in the assessment process through self-evaluation and/or peer review. Consider giving them a rubric for self or peer evaluation. Perhaps assign an informal reflection/self-evaluation due along with the paper.
  9. Have pre and post-assignment conversations with students about their writing. Establish individual goals for the next paper.
  10. Assign an informal essay that asks students to reflect upon their relationship to your discipline and its relationship to local and global challenges. How do students understand (or not) the potential significance of their discipline-informed (interdisciplinary) voices.

Source: Middlebury Teagle-funded Interdisciplinary Faculty Working Group on Sophomore-Junior Writing (Grant Project directed by Kathy Skubikowski and Adela Langrock, handout compiled by Catharine Wright) 2010.

Ten Rubrics for Teaching Writing

Rubrics can be useful in crafting assignments and in discussing and assessing student work. The writing rubrics below were collaboratively produced by Middlebury College faculty as a result of a Teagle-funded project on college writing (project directors were Kathy Skubikowski and Adela Langrock). Although rubrics are sometimes designed specifically for grading, the rubrics below do not neatly correspond to any particular writing assignment or line up with the letter grades A, B, C, D; instead, they are expected to be used more broadly and can be adapted to particular purposes.

General Writing Rubric (for writing across the curriculum)

Discipline Specific Rubrics

Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice

Reflect on your role as teacher; be transparent

  • Explain reasoning behind curricular and pedagogical choices
  • Admit lack of expertise in diversity issues and/or acknowledge discomfort with a topic when appropriate
  • Generate trust and respect through language and tone
  • Demonstrate cultural self-awareness; acknowledge what you represent to others
  • Establish writing & speaking ground rules
  • Set goals in relation to disability
  • Have a vocabulary to address class proceedings; what’s working and what’s not? 

Create an inclusive learning environment

  • Have a range of social groups/critical perspectives represented in the curriculum
  • Allow discussions to be discussions. Listen more than you speak.
  • Design assignments that meet diverse learning styles
  • Have students learn one another’s names (if a large class, maybe just in pairs)
  • Allow students to have input in class goals. Collectivity set ground rules.
  • Create small working groups that facilitate cross-cultural learning
  • Acknowledge, allow for cultural differences in communication styles/norms
  • Encourage willingness to disagree that respects the person but honestly confronts “the view”
  • Push the conversation when students hesitate to be honest; acknowledge difficulty/ hindrance of the need to be politically correct
  • Allow time for cognitive processing in discussion (silence can be fruitful)
  • Don’t single out a student to represent a social group unless you identify a student ally ahead of time who is comfortable working with you to further the discussion
  • Create mid-semester check-ins/evaluations in courses 

Integrate experiential and classroom/scholarly learning

  • Define terms that pertain to social issues relevant to your course/discipline
  • Use community learning and/or informal writing to bridge theory and experience
  • Identify spaces/times for “the personal” separate from or connected to research
  • Distinguish between social systems and individual experience (especially when confronted with: “that’s not true for me/in my experience.”)
  • Value process time; create room in your syllabus to integrate information
  • Make individual student growth a learning outcome for your class.

Generated by Middlebury College Students, Faculty and Staff in the Teaching for Diversity Series

Co-sponsored by the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity, The Center for Teaching, Learning and Research and the Writing and Rhetoric Program, Middlebury College, 2010

Tips For Responding to Student Writing

Versions of this have been used by Prof. Shawna Shapiro (WRPR, LNGT) for in-person workshops as well as one-on-one conversations with faculty. Please feel free to reach out to Shawna directly at, or to any other member of the Writing and Rhetoric Program, if you have questions.

Have a focus for your feedback

  • If the paper will be revised, focus on suggestions for improvement
  • If this is the final draft in a CW course, focus on overall strengths and areas for growth. And/or give feedback on the writing skills/strategies you’re learning as a class —e.g., citing secondary sources
  • If this is a non-CW course, consider what your “minimum threshold” is for accessing the content, and require revision for those that don’t meet that threshold

Go for quality—rather than quantity—of comments

Focus on the quality and specificity of your comments—not the quantity. Students are easily overwhelmed: Less is more!

  • Use margin comments, rather than end comments, for greater uptake of learning
  • Point out a pattern once or twice, and then ask the student to find other instances.

Make students do the work—that’s how they’ll learn!

  • Ask students to synthesize their “takeaways” from the feedback (peer and/or faculty feedback)
  • Have students write a “Writer’s Memo” with the next draft, explaining what they’ve improved
  • Use some class time to discuss general patterns/suggestions across papers, and then your written feedback can address more individual issues

Consider multiple modes for feedback

  • Electronic feedback—e.g. comment bubbles—can be faster than handwriting (if you don’t overdo it!)
    • Note “compare drafts” feature in Word, to see changes from earlier versions!
  • Audio-record feedback?—feature in Canvas
  • Consider giving feedback in person. This can actually save time and energy!

REMEMBER: “All writing needs to be read. Not all writing needs to be read by me.” 

– Kathy Skubikowski, professor emerita

Questions to Consider

What are my goals for this assignment, at this phase in the writing process? NOTE: For early drafts: focus the feedback on argument/evidence and organization (vs. editing).

How can I set up this assignment so that students can achieve those goals?

  • Clear expectations and scaffolding (detailed guidelines, rubrics, sample papers, pre- writing activities/assignments, small/large group discussion)
  • In class activities that help students avoid common “pitfalls” with this assignment.

What format for feedback works best for me? (stylistically, logistically)

  • Written only
  • Written plus individual meeting
  • Individual meeting (in-person or virtual) only
  • Audio or video-recorded feedback?
  • Peer tutor meetings/feedback (instead of, or in addition to, instructor feedback)

How can students be a part of the feedback process?

  • Self-reflection (e.g., Require a “Writer’s Memo” with the next/final draft)
  • Peer review (with appropriate preparation/guidance)
  • Analysis of model essays in class
  • Sharing our own writing with students

How can I show that I care about what they have to say, in addition to how they’re saying it?

  • Using writing in class
  • Providing thoughtful comments and questions, with a curious tone
  • Remembering the power of our words! We can use clear, kind, and constructive

    feedback to strengthen our relationships with students

What is my “minimum threshold” for language/mechanics? What can I let go of?

  • Tip: Focus on CLARITY rather than on error correction!

How can I ensure that my feedback is constructive?

  • Acknowledge effort and intention—even if there is still a lot of room for improvement.
  • Be explicit about what’s working well and what they can do better.
  • Offer suggestions—not just critiques.
  • Give students a chance to summarize and react to the feedback they have received.

Peer Review Practices

The Writing and Rhetoric Program strongly encourages Middlebury faculty to use and teach effective peer review practices in college-writing (CW) classes. You can find an abundance of resources on peer review at University of Michigan’s Sweetland Center for Writing.