A few weeks back a former student of mine came in needing help. As she had spent most of the semester wisely seeking my help when she had my class, I had no problem with this. I knew that she would take the counsel seriously and use it. She was struggling with the next class, but she mentioned something of note, which I won’t get perfectly accurate here: “I learned a long time ago that in peer review they just tell you what you want to hear.”
I’ve struggled with the concept of peer review in the classroom for this very reason. Students are ill-equipped to criticize one another’s work for a variety of reasons that range from simply not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings (or the reciprocal of having their own feelings hurt) all the way to not having any expert knowledge to make a comment on writing.
I’ve more or less eliminated peer review from my courses. I feel that before they can be competent to evaluate writing skills they must first develop a critical eye. I know this process can be instructive, but I’ve yet to see dividends.
The same holds true for writers. It’s important that writers receive feedback from other writers. Writers know their trade, know pitfalls and what to look for in writing. Family and friends can help some, obviously, but nothing beats feedback from someone with that critical eye. I’m fine with family and friends telling me they like what I’m writing, but I love when writers dig in let me have it with both barrels. When they hack me to pieces on a scene, I know I need to make improvements. I also know that the scenes they didn’t hit with a meat cleaver are also good.