Peer Review Activity Using Johari and Nohari Windows

I always like to salvage good ideas from the web, repurpose them, and bring them into the writing classroom. I realize that I've never blogged about one I tried last fall which went really well.

Remember the meme about the interactive Johari windows and Nohari windows? I decided to try that with a peer review activity. I made copies of the Johari and Nohari windows -- a two-sided handout -- to accompany their peer review questions.

I asked students to (among other things) circle at least three words from each window which describe the draft in some meaningful way, then write an explanation of why they chose those words (preferably referring to specific passages in the drafts). I found that this heuristic was especially good for giving feedback on personal narrative essays, as students often have a hard time figuring out what kind of commentary to give on those. With the windows, they were able to respond to the writing, the authorial persona, and the tone in really substantive ways. The students also have more social license to give honest negative feedback because they have the excuse of "well, she's making us pick at least three negative words..." Finally, the windows let the students talk about the Johari words in nuanced ways. For example, "sentimental," "tense," "nervous," "shy," and "quiet" are on the Johari (more positive) window, but those could be used as negative terms as well.

I'd recommend the Johari/Nohari method for any composition teacher looking to shake up peer review.


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peer response

For me, the consistent focus with peer response is on reading and writing to revise. In other words, what kinds of peer comments lend themselves best to productive revision on the part of the writer? I tell my students, "Don't leave comments like 'this is good' or 'this is bad.' That's unhelpful: what's a writer going to do with comments like that? They provide no direction for revision." So I usually try to encourage either descriptive feedback coupled to a suggestion for change ("Your sentences are mostly long -- more than twenty words -- and complex, so you might try making your key or central points short, simple, declarative sentences, for emphasis") or reader-response feedback ("I feel like I'm reading an angry rant at the end of this paragraph, and it makes me want to stop reading").

So I like the idea of what you're doing, but I'd like to hear more specifics about how you work with the Johari and Nohari terms to move students toward revision. (Especially since I'll be running a session on peer response in our Arriving Faculty Workshop in a few weeks.)


I could do better with that

I always try to remember to tell students to suggest alternatives when they point out areas that need to be improved. Receiving feedback is frustrating and not helpful for any writer if the feedback is of the "this part isn't working, and you didn't do that right" variety. I could do more to make the Johari/Nohari exercise more conducive to that, though, I'm sure. The Johari/Nohari does help to give students a vocabulary for the Elbownian kind of reader-response feedback you're talking about, I've found.

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