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Russell Stannard: Why peer review and feedback is crucial in the 21st Century

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Βy Natassa Manitsa 

If anyone was to ask me what the big challenges to teaching and learning in the 21st Century are, then there is no doubt that in my top 5, I would include the need to incorporate peer feedback into our teaching and learning. Peer feedback has been around as an idea for many years but it is notoriously difficult to convince both teachers and students of its value. However, the shifts that are taking place in learning convince me that we must reconsider its role.

Why peer review?

When we ask our students to review and evaluate other student’s work we are encouraging them to do several things.

They have to understand standards or markers. They have to learn to measure the work against specific criteria or benchmarks.

They must be able to identify the gaps ie. the places where the work they are looking at does not reach those standards.

They have to think of possible ways to overcome these gaps.

This process of evaluating a student’s work encourages critical thinking. It means using higher order thinking skills to analyse and evaluate a piece of work. It engages students in the feedback process and helps them view a piece of work from a new angle. In doing so, it helps students to understand more about their own work and hopefully encourages them to reflect on the work they have produced as well as their peer’s work. They may, for example, find some good things in their peer’s work, that they didn’t include in theirs.

Why is there so much resistance to the idea?

Firstly, peer feedback has been misunderstood. Teachers have tended to look at peer review in terms of student’s knowledge of grammar. Most teachers ask me ‘How can a student evaluate the mistakes in another student’s work?’ This though misses the point. Evaluating another student’s piece of work doesn’t have to be about the actual grammar used. The focus could be on the organisation, the quality of the arguments, the way the text links together, the quality of the conclusions etc.

Secondly, resistance stems from the fact that teachers tend to always focus on its use in written work. Peer feedback can be used in a whole range of activities. So, for example, I commonly use it when getting students to evaluate each other’s presentations or speeches. I like using it after students have taken part in a debate or discussion. It is also an ideal technique when students have produced digital content like a blog or a student profile.

Training

One absolutely key point when working with peer feedback is the need to train the students to do it. This means providing students with clear rubrics or guidelines and then providing them with opportunities to practice applying the criteria. So for example when getting students to give peer feedback on their peer’s presentations, I give them a rubric and we watch a video of a presentation together first and then evaluate it. Once I am sure they understand the rubric and how to use it, I then get them to review an actual student’s presentation. Being confident with the marking criteria and understanding the boundaries of it are key.

It is also vital not to be too ambitious. So for example in a lesson where students are peer evaluating each other’s presentations, I might ask the students to  focus on the actual presentation slides and not even talk about the delivery of the presentation. In a peer review activity around written work, the focus might be on the quality of the arguments or the examples that were used to justify and support the arguments in the text. Keep the feedback very clear and don’t set tasks that are too broad in scope, especially at the start.

Peer review works well with young learners

Peer review is not only for older students. Not that many years ago, a teacher on a training course I was running, did a series of experiments with very young learners where she asked them to review their peer’s audio recordings. She used a combination of tick boxes and smiley faces and found that encouraging students to peer evaluate, helped them to understand their own work much better. I was actually surprised how successful the experiment was and the students were only around 9 years old.

Why is peer review so critical now?

The world of work and learning has changed enormously in the last few years. Students and people in the workplace will be expected to do more and more training online and this will mean less support from teachers. Students will need to be able to evaluate their own progress and the quality of the work they are producing. There will also be greater and greater demands on students to self-develop and make use of the enormous number of materials available. They will need to set their own benchmarks, identify the gaps and think of solutions. Peer evaluation is a key tool in helping to develop students autonomy and their ability to work independently and this is going to be a vital skill. This is a huge challenge to both teachers and students and it is the reason why I really believe that we need to rethink our resistance to peer evaluation.

 The article first appeared on Express Publishing’s website (Teachers’ corner). Reprinted with permission

 

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