Does Peer Feedback Benefit Developing Writers?

by Deborah Choo & Jonathan Tang


Although the benefits of student peer reviews have been widely acknowledged by educators and researchers alike, the development of students’ feedback literacy continues to interest colleagues in higher education (e.g., Reddy, Harland, Wass, & Wald, 2020). A number of colleagues at the Centre where we work have also published their thoughts in this blog (Angove & Ramanujan, 2018; Ramanujan & Angove, 2017; Wong, 2020). In sum, what we do seem to know is that with the appropriate learner preparation such as reviewer training, teacher supervision and repeated practice over time, peer feedback can promote disciplinary knowledge, reflexivity and self-knowledge, ownership of learning, collaborative learning, creativity, and so on. What we may be less certain about, however, is the value of peer feedback in a community of developing or struggling writers. As Loo (2018) suggests, metalinguistic feedback may pose considerable challenge to learners when their “fundamental knowledge of form and structure is not yet strong.”

The motivation of this critical inquiry came from an exploration of research interests among participants of a HERDSA-SoTL workshop facilitated by the second author. The interaction between our combined experiences of being teachers of developing writers and facilitators of peer feedback, and the perspectives of critical friends at the workshop has led us to think critically about what we are unable to know from what is currently known about peer feedback. In this post, we document our critical reflections as we looked for ‘answers’ about how peer feedback benefits developing or struggling writers (if at all), and discerning the questions that need to be asked to further that knowledge.

The interaction between our combined experiences of being teachers of developing writers and facilitators of peer feedback, and the perspectives of critical friends at the workshop has led us to think critically about what we are unable to know from what is currently known about peer feedback.

Angove and Ramanujan (2018), in their implementation of student peer reviews in their Ideas and Exposition (IEM) classrooms, reported that with proper training, their students benefitted in both their content and expression from peer feedback that “helped them reflect critically on their own ideas and rhetorical moves.” The process of giving peer feedback also aided their “experiencing other papers and recognizing their own strengths and failures through what they saw in their peers’ writing.” While their findings agree with what other educators have found more generally about the value that peer feedback brings to students’ disciplinary knowledge and knowledge about others and self, they are situated in content-specific and rhetorically-intensive classrooms populated by students who have passed or been exempted from the university’s qualifying English test or fulfilled the requirements of English for Academic Purposes modules, and offer limited help to teachers who are helping developing writers to negotiate foundational concerns.

With the interests of developing writers such as those in Loo (2018) in mind, we turned to the literature on peer feedback in ESL/EFL settings but found ourselves none the wiser in regard to the problem we set out to answer. This is mainly due to the fact that findings in this area can be inconsistent, at times pointing to students being “distrustful of the value of their peers’ comments” (Deng, Yang, & Varaprasad, 2014, p.188) and at other times highlighting that such students are “increasingly influenced by a more global worldview and tend towards a greater desire for autonomy” (Fong, 2018, p.132). It seems that findings in this area may offer limited help to instructors of developing writers as the developmental and ability spectrum of learners within ESL/EFL settings can be very wide; and often by focusing on PRC learners and running the risk of cultural essentialism, such findings may often be “too crude to provide good predictions of how… students will behave in… specific contexts” (Meyer, 2003, p.87).

A recent study of enhancing peer feedback quality in the foundation academic English classroom may shed light on the potential of peer feedback for improving developing writers’ writing. Eliciting students’ perceived feedback literacy, writing performance and journal reflections, Yuen (2019) found that a technology-enhanced approach to structure the feedback process promoted quality peer feedback that enhanced students’ academic writing skills. The value of her technology-enhanced approach seems to be in its incorporation of a feedback rubric and provision for the usefulness of received feedback to be evaluated by the beneficiary and subsequently endorsed by the instructor. Her study bodes well for the use of peer feedback in developing writers’ classrooms, and is a step in the right direction. Yet, we do not yet know if it was technological novelty, feedback process methodology, task repetition, or other factors in the peer review assignment that was key to developing writers’ growth. Neither may we be sufficiently clear about what linguistic features of form and function are students able to review more productively than others, and which might require more instructional intervention. We need more such studies as Yuen (2019) to gather a more holistic and discriminating picture of how peer feedback aids developing writers – both the motivational and non-motivational factors.

We conclude our critical inquiry with a set of possible directions for developing our knowledge of the value of peer feedback in supporting developing writers’ growth: (i) How does peer feedback motivate developing writers’ growth? For instance, how might a combination of significant people, instrumental-integrative motivation, the motivated self, and loss of motivation (Fong, 2018) play out in the peer review assignment in specific contexts? (ii) How do developing writers benefit from peer feedback in comparison to university students in general? Which of the generally purported benefits are included or excluded from the peer review experiences of developing writers? (iii) What linguistic features of form and function are developing writers able to review (and respond to in reviews) more successfully, and which pose considerable challenge? Answers to these questions would encourage key success conditions to be replicated in developing writers’ classrooms and increase the impact of peer feedback on developing writers’ growth.



Angove, C., & Ramanujan, A. (2018, August 30). Student impressions of peer review: A brief study [blog post]. SoTL Matters. Available at

Deng, X., Yang, Y., & Varaprasad, C. (2014). Thesis writing course: Students’ perceptions and attitudes toward the impact of the course on their thesis writing knowledge and skills. Asian Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 4(3), 180-191.

Fong, Y. S. (2018). Learners in transition: Chinese students’ journeys from EFL to ESL and EIL. London: Routledge.

Loo, D. B. (2018, June 27). Perception towards metalinguistic feedback and its impact on writing quality: A preliminary examination [blog post]. SoTL Matters. Available at

Meyer, J. E. L. (2003). PRC students and group work: Their actions and reactions. In L. Ho, J. E. L. Meyer, C. Varaprasad, & G. L. Lee (Eds.), Teaching English to students from China. Singapore: NUS Press.

Reddy, K., Harland, T., Wass, R., & Wald, N. (2020). Student peer review as a process of knowledge creation through dialogue, Higher Education Research & Development. Advance online publication.

Ramanujan, A. & Angove, C. (2017, December 8). Peer Reviewing: “It’s not about you; it’s about me” [blog post]. SoTL Matters. Available at

Wong, J. O. (2020, April 19). Peer review: A cultural adaptation [blog post]. Available at

Yuen, B. (2019, December). Developing student feedback literacy to enhance peer feedback quality for academic writing. Paper presented at the CELC Roundtable 2019, National University of Singapore, Singapore.

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