Six tips for perfect peer assessment

It takes careful planning, but getting students to assess each other can bring impressive results

Effective feedback

I haven’t been using peer feedback enough in my classes.

Like most teachers, I’m someone whose practice goes through waves of change, and I often forget about certain approaches, (or at least the merits of them).

For me, peer feedback is in that category.


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But in the lead up to exams, I’ve brought back peer assessment and been pleasantly surprised by what a useful tool it can be.

I’m a big believer in quick feedback (instant where possible), and a well set-up peer-assessment task is a surefire way to ensure that students get timely feedback on tasks.

The thing is, students helping students is a minefield if not handled properly; that’s why you need to consider your feedback tasks carefully and think about why you are using them.

Keep it snappy

Feedback needs to be timely. If you leave it too long, it will lose its value and importance, simply because students forget what they were doing or why they did it.

One of the huge pros to peer feedback is that it can be integrated into lessons and weaved between tasks to help students to continually improve. These interventions can also be much quicker than a teacher circulating the class to look for misconceptions.

Train them

If you have something to say, say it; that’s the message with peer feedback. It needs to be specific and to the point, with no beating around the bush, simply because students are susceptible to distraction.

Train your classes to offer and respond to certain patterns in feedback, heightening their awareness of vocabulary and directing them to look for specific features.

Ensure buy-in

In their 2017 study on feedback, John Hattie and Helen Timperley stress that effective feedback answers three questions: where am I going? How am I going [to get there]? Where to next? If students don’t see their learning journey clearly, they won’t buy into feedback tasks.

By getting them to consider their own learning, you are also encouraging self-awareness; an exceptionally important skill to master, especially if we are aiming to encourage more independence.

Feedback

Set time aside

If we don’t give students the time to reflect on their feedback, they won’t be able to respond effectively and constructively and implement the given suggestions. Plan time for modelling how to feed back and how to respond.

A rushed attempt at the end of a lesson in the form of a (massively outdated) plenary-style exercise will inevitably have little impact.

Change mindsets

Getting students away from the idea that their ability if fixed is hugely empowering. Effective peer feedback breeds a culture of growth and reinforces the idea that learning is a process that is about building on your strengths and overcoming your weaknesses.

When students begin to appreciate the importance of the feedback from their peers, they allow themselves to grow as learners.

Make mistakes OK

Failure is part of learning, and abolishing fear of failure is a vital part of the process. I am a great believer in ensuring that negative feedback is packaged in a way that doesn’t damage student wellbeing.

Peer assessment is a great buffer for failure, helping students to identify and pick up on mistakes before their work gets to the teacher.

Building up layers of success can work as a confidence builder, especially when classmates can be viewed as more collaborative than judgemental.  

Adam Riches is a specialist leader of education and lead teacher in English

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