Peer Review

As an English teacher, I often make my students peer review one another’s essays.  Today happens to be one of those days where my Juniors are editing away, and I observed my mentee’s class which was also peer editing.  All this peer review got me thinking about the value of such an activity.

On it’s surface, it seems so vital.  I always tell my students that in order to grow as writers, they must get feedback from a variety of audiences.  In other words, I cannot be their only audience as a writer.  My goal with peer review is, at least in large part, to increase their audience.  We know that feedback is vital to learning, and mulitple sources of feedback is even better, so peer review of their work seems like a no brainer.
Where I get stumped is just how little they seem to understand the peer review process and how much training it takes on my part.  In my experience, students do not know how to give meaningful feedback, and the writers don’t know what to do with that feedback.  I find it almost disheartening that I have to teach juniors in high school how to give feedback, but even more so that I have to remind the writers to read the feedback.  I have found many times that the editor doesn’t even give the writer the answers to the question!  He keeps the paper himself!  What benefit does that serve?  But it made me wonder how peer review plays out in other classes?
When observing my mentee today, he conducts his peer review sessions in much the same manner that I do, andhe had to remind the class to read the feedback and actually give the feedback to the writer, etc.  If this is the state of peer review, what does that mean?  Are we taking this huge educational opportunity and wasting it?   As educators, are we giving deep thought to why we do it or are we just doing it because it’s what has always been done?  I’d be interested to see what methods other teachers have to increase the audience for their students and gain meaningful feedback.