This week in class we peer-edited each other's papers, or rather, "coached" each other.
I find peer editing can range from extremely helpful to incredibly worthless, and it doesn't seem to depend on the person editing, but on the environment. I think it is crucial to develop a collaborative environment in which reporters, students or colleagues recognize that they can all work together to produce a better product.
I rarely find myself disagreeing with suggestions that others make about my writing, so any time I get a paper back covered in ink, I find it extremely helpful; this has happened a few times and my editors have pointed out things and suggested ideas I never would have thought about.
On the other hand, it is far more common that I receive a paper back with just a couple hesitating marks here and there; this is the only type of editing I find unhelpful. Unless we have that understanding and supportive environment, it is extremely difficult to feel comfortable marking up someone else's paper.
I find the same with my students. They have a workshop before each major paper in which they spend the whole class period working with various "compañeros" to improve their papers. I find it interesting that since we are working in a foreign language environment, students zealously mark grammatical errors with almost no hesitation. It seems less intrusive to correct second-language grammar than first-langauge grammar.
What is difficult is to get them to make meaningful comments about content. It isn't that they don't have meaningful comments to make, but just that critiquing content in this way is a very foreign experience. Many of the lesson plans I work from suggest very specific ways to elicit this feedback (How interesting is the title, on a scale of 1 to 5?), and this seems to be the best way to create meaningful critiques, as it gives direction rather than overwhelming students by giving them a free-for-all to critique any and everything.
Peer editing is a tricky thing.