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Giver’s Gain in Peer Learning

Bill Hart-Davidson uses the catchphrase “giver’s gain” to describe the benefits of being a helpful reviewer. Giver’s gain comes from actively thinking alongside another writer:

  • What you read, you too can imitate.
  • What you detect, you too can correct.
  • What you explain, you too can remember.
  • What you suggest, you too can try.

It can be as a simple as a reviewer saying, “You are missing this requirement; oh, I think I left it out too!”

The research supporting giver’s gain comes from studies examining the efficacy of peer grading (e.g., Cho & MacArthur, Patchann & Schunn) and peer learning in ESL classes (Lundstrom & Baker). These studies and others find that the writers who improve most are also those whose written comments were most helpful to their peers.

Helpful comments tell writers a lot about their drafts–its strengths and weaknesses, its goals and possibilities. Like windows into their thinking, comments reveal what reviewers know about writing. Here’s how Trisha Wynn, an instructor Montcalm Community College, described a class activity where she taught students about giver’s gain:

Last week I emphasized “giver’s gain,” the idea that thinking critically and giving specific feedback to others actually helps the person GIVING feedback write a better paper. To get the newbies to really buy into this idea, I showed them feedback comments (anonymously and with permission, of course) . . . from highly rated reviewers, and we read them together.

One of those comments was about a thesis statement, whether or not it met the criteria, and included specific suggestions for improvement.  I asked, “After reading this reviewer’s comment, do you think the REVIEWER most likely has/will have a clear thesis statement that meets the criteria?”

The answer was yes. I saw lightbulbs. I also showed review comments that were positive, such as, “This thesis statement is clear, leads the reader in a clear direction, and mentions all the themes Gladwell talks about in the book.” Instead of just saying “this is good,” this reviewer articulated WHY it was good, and therefore was thinking critically about what HIS OWN thesis statement should look like.

In this activity, students noticed that the reviewer’s comment showed that he understood the criteria. The comment helped the writer–sure–but the comment also helped the reviewer focus on what matters. Attuned to the most important criteria, reviewers are better able to revise their own work.

In this video clip, Trisha explains that instructors have an important role to play in giver’s gain too. Helpful comments are hard to write, especially for struggling writers.  Trisha points out that she has to carefully write the prompt for reviewers’ comments.

With guidance about what criteria to read for, what kinds of problems to detect, and how to evaluate the draft, reviewers are likely to come up with helpful suggestions. To help reviewers experience giver’s gain, we have to help students do their best thinking while they are giving feedback.

Below, we’ve identified our resources for instructors and students on giver’s gain.

Instructor Resources on Giver’s Gain

  • Making A Horse Drink” describes how to use giver’s gain to help students understand that peer review is an intentional instructional strategy, not just a hoop.
  • Bad Feedback Happens” offers multiple strategies for reading reviewers’ comments as authentic learning records in order to find out what students can’t say to each other about their writing.
  • No Pain, No Gain” connects giver’s gain with deliberate practice; commenting is a form of writing practice skill, just like drafting.
  • Give One, Get One” counters the altruism of giver’s gain with a reminder that the best peer learning is reciprocal.

Student Resources on Giver’s Gain

  • Feedback and Improvement” opens by explaining that being a more critical reader and reviewer expands writers’ own skills.
  • Giving Helpful Feedback” ends with guidelines and examples of “describe-evaluate-suggest,” a pattern for helpful comments.

Cover photo credit: Benjamin Solah

Giver’s Gain in Peer Learning was published to the Eli Review Blog in the category Pedagogy.

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