Unfinished Business: A Different Peer Review Strategy

Dr. Rachelle Dené Poth
7 min readApr 4, 2023


Guest post by laura steinbrink, posted in education


This strategy is based on Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process, which has amazing potential even outside of its intended use. After reading her book on this process, I have been pondering ways to use this model with students of all ages, and with some restructuring according to the age or grade level of the student, I believe it is possible. To use this, students must be creating, writing, or have a product that is in progress or not complete, or maybe even a rough draft. Then, as students are in the process of creating, whether it be writing, artwork, research, project-based learning (PBL), presentation, etc., this process can help students refine their work with controlled peer feedback. There are three roles for this process, and if you have a small class, then you can do this whole group. For larger classes, you may need to conduct the process with the whole group as a model, and then break it up into smaller groups if necessary.


The purpose of this strategy is not to “fix” the student’s work, but to provide questions to clarify areas that need more work and statements to point out strengths of the work in progress. This is actually the hardest part for me, as I am generally in “fix it” mode. This is also the part that needs to be addressed up front with the students the first time you do this with them. They are not to offer ways to fix any part that the creator is struggling with but to come up with questions to ask the creator about those issues that will help them come up with their own solution. In step 5 below, you could allow an opinion to contain a “here’s what I would do,” but the creator is still the one deciding whether or not to accept or act on those ideas.


What is particularly striking about this process or strategy is the potential for students to truly see that the process of creating is important, there’s usually more than one right way to do something, the class can truly be a learning community, and that revising work is a natural part of the creating process. Students often get into the rut of the “one and done” mode. We write a paper, create a product, paint a picture, and then turn it in and move on. This occurs even when we use our beloved rubrics. I have conducted workshops on how to effectively use rubrics, like the single-point rubric, and teachers have complained that they hand back a rubric and the student looks at it and tosses it in the trash. My question to all who have experienced this is, “Was there a grade on it?” If so, that’s the feedback the student wanted. No need to reflect. A teacher in my previous district pointed out that she handed back the rubrics and a student looked at it and crumpled it up, and that the student was my son. I asked him about it later, and he said, “It had a 100% on it. What did I need to look at or do with the rubric?” Right. No need to reflect at that point is a common student reaction. I encourage not putting grades on rubrics, instead, it is better to use them to guide instruction and feedback in the process of creating the work.


The Unfinished Business strategy can help students see that revising as we go is a common and productive practice. Research shows us that reflecting is a powerful learning strategy, so what better way to teach it than to have students reflect on feedback to find ways to improve and revise the work in progress? According to John Hattie and Helen Timperly, feedback is the “consequence of performance.” So to elicit strong feedback to help learners value the creation and revision process, try the strategy below and adjust as needed to fit your learners.

Role 1: Artist/Maker

Offers a work-in-progress for review and is prepared to examine the work critically in conversation with other people.

Role 2: Responder

Commits to the artist/maker’s intent to make excellent work. They question and respond to questions. They want the artist/maker to do their best work.

Role 3: Facilitator

Initiates each step, keeps the process and students on track, and works to help the artist/maker and responders frame useful questions and responses. The project rubric, if you have one, would be helpful here. Students can either form questions based on the criteria or you can have premade questions from the criteria that students can ask. Giving students a question to ask when first trying this or each time it is tried can really help get a productive conversation going. Those questions would be scaffolds for the responders. Most questions they will need to generate independently and need to be useful to the artist/maker.

Step 1: Artist/Maker shares the work in progress or a part of the work that they are struggling with or aren’t sure of at that moment in the creation process, or even after a draft or prototype has been completed.

Step 2: Responders then respond to what was meaningful, surprising, interesting, exciting, and/or striking in the work they have just witnessed, heard, read, etc. Each responder verbally or on a sticky note writes one positive response to the work. They cannot use “I like” or “I love” in the statement. Instead of saying/writing “I like the way you…” students write or say things like “Your thesis statement is strong and engaging” or “The color choice really complements the piece,” depending on the type of work being reviewed.

Step 3: The artist/maker then asks any questions they may have about the work. In answering, responders must stay on topic with the question and may only express opinions in direct response to the artist’s questions. This might be tricky, so after a practice round or two, determining a limit on the questions the artist/maker may ask might help with the facilitation. Time constraints in general mean that having the artist ask 1–3 questions would prevent the process from dragging on, which is important for the engagement of the responders. All responders should write down a response and the artist/maker can choose one or two to call on verbally. The artist receives all written responses also. On the same sticky note, (Use one or two per student responder for each session.)

Step 4: Responders write out neutral questions about the work on the same sticky note, and the artist chooses 1–3 students to ask their questions and then they respond to those questions.

Questions are neutral when they do not have an opinion added to them. This step is one of the most fundamental, challenging, and misunderstood steps of the Critical Response Process as noted by Liz Lerman. The questions are focused on anything unclear, confusing, complicated, or too simplistic about the work and should promote critical thinking among the responders. This part of the process is meant to provide the artist/maker with areas to consider for improving the work. The artist/maker has ultimate control over the end product, and responders are not there to “fix” the work, so they should not include solutions. The “fixers” in your classroom may struggle with this, so be prepared to help them suppress that instinct.

Step 5: (Optional-if time permits) Responders state opinions about the work in progress, given permission from the artist; the artist/maker considers the opinions but has the option to say no. Here is where you could include “fix it” ideas from those students who are your “fixers.” This round may be best if it is oral and not written down. The artist/maker calls on one or two responders, and again, the decisions lie with the artist/maker to accept one, some, all, or none of the proffered suggestions.


Students who are in the role of responder will still get a lot out of this process. The artist/maker will as well. This will provide the motivation to reflect on the work and then revise it. This is the beauty in this strategy for me, as there are times when getting students to review, edit, or revise their work is like Sisyphus rolling his rock up the hill each day. Again, revise this as needed for younger learners. This strategy can also promote an inclusive and safe learning environment when done properly (manage unhelpful criticisms), which can lead to students taking academic risks. Set up time in your pacing guide for this in place or in addition to any peer review feedback activities that are already built-in, and then do the strategy. It could work as a one-day weekly activity or as needed. The goal is for students to manage their own learning, and you will know you have achieved that goal when students start requesting the strategy to receive help with their work. Good luck, and tag me on Twitter or comment below if you find it useful.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2016). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research. https://doi.org/10.3102/003465430298487


Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Bobby Dall / Bret Michaels / Bruce Anthony Johannesson / Rikki Rocket
Every Rose Has Its Thorn lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Inc

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Originally published at http://rdene915.com on April 4, 2023.



Dr. Rachelle Dené Poth

I am a Spanish and STEAM Emerging Tech Teacher, Attorney, Author and Blogger, Learning Enthusiast and EdTech Consultant