Can peer feedback really be effective?

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“The students either give superficial feedback, or it can end up causing all sorts of hurt feelings. I’m not sure it’s worth the time and effort.”

With a bit of planning and preparation, peer feedback can become an effective strategy to support student learning. Here are some  things to consider when working to implement effective peer feedback in the classroom.

1. Feedback about the Right Things

Students need to know the learning destination to help them stay focused.

It’s All about the Outcomes

If feedback is to improve learning, it must be focused on helping students consider the quality of their work in relation to the outcomes.

Let’s Talk about It

What are some of the ‘big ideas’ you want students to learn? How do the students know what those ‘big ideas’ are?

Scaffolding is Essential

As with any new skill, students will need support to help them become effective at giving and receiving peer feedback.

Let’s Talk about It

Check out an AAC Performance Assessment Task. Notice how the Formative Feedback Tools provide questions and prompts to help students focus on the ‘big ideas’ from the Student Task.

Ideas, Not Carbon Copies

Instead of encouraging students to copy another student’s work, effective peer feedback opens up possibilities to students.

Let’s Talk about It

Think about an upcoming student task or project. How could the task be structured so it was open-ended enough to be suitable for a peer feedback experience?

2. Create a Safe Classroom Environment

Assessment can evoke an emotional response. A safe classroom environment is essential if peer feedback is to have its intended impact.

Building a Classroom Community

A safe classroom environment requires more than just physical safety.

Let’s Talk about It

How can we help students develop trust so they will be willing to engage in open conversations about their learning?

Try the Sandwich Technique

Feedback can include both areas of strength and areas for growth. The two categories might not be equal in focus, but feedback can always be respectful.

Let’s Talk about It

How can we help students learn the skill of providing feedback that is both honest and respectful?

A Word about FOIP

What do teachers need to consider when students have access to the work of other students?

Click image to download PDF.

Let’s Talk about It

When planning for peer feedback, what steps will you need to take in order to respect students’ privacy?

3. Timing is Everything

The best feedback takes place while there is still time to use the feedback to improve the work.

You’ve Got Feedback: Now What?

Students are encouraged to reflect critically about the feedback they receive, and make decisions as to their next steps.

Let’s Talk about It

What support will students need in order to think critically about the feedback they receive?

Feedback at the Right Time

The right feedback at the right time is a winning combination for students.

Let’s Talk about It

Consider how you might include a peer feedback experience in an upcoming lesson or series of lessons. Be sure to allow time for students to act on the feedback they receive. 

What’s wrong with assigning group grades?

AAC Member Only Content

“There’s just not enough time to cover the curriculum if students don’t work together. And there definitely isn’t time to have students do a project that I can’t use for marks.”

While group work is an important part of the curriculum, it is essential that individual student grades be based on what individual students know and can do. A student’s grade cannot be based on what another student has – or has not done.

There are many ways to accomplish group work without resorting to group grades. 

AAC Member Only Content

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1. Understand the Problem

Over the years, both students and parents have expressed concerns about group work. You can likely recall your own experiences as a student working with group projects.  

Make a list of the reasons why students and parents may be concerned about group work. 

The suggestions on this page can provide possible ways to address the concerns, meet the curricular expectations for collaboration and teamwork, and ensure that assessment remains focused on what individual students know and are able to do.

2. Clarify the Assessment Focus

You don’t need to assess everything every time. With a bit of strategic planning, teachers can organize group projects to provide real clarity on what is – and what is not being assessed.

Assess the Process of Group Work

Group work can be an effective instructional strategy, even if the product created by the group isn’t assessed for marks. 

While students are working on a specific group task, it is possible to assess individual student performance as a group member.

Video: Meaningful Assessment within a Group Context

Meaningful Assessment within a Group Context

Careful planning assists teachers in gathering meaningful assessment information about individual students though group tasks and projects.

Click to download PDF support materials for this video.
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The document (in the adjacent column) provides a sample of a process and a feedback tool that a teacher might use to focus on the qualities of an effective group member. The helpful tips keep the focus on formative assessment – even when/especially when working with process skills.

This tool is set within a Gr. 4 Social Studies context, but it can be easily adapted for other grades and subjects.

Remember: Only teachers can assign marks! Students can reflect on their own work and provide feedback to their peers, but marking/grading is a professional responsibility.  

Group Work: Tool Sample and Helpful Tips 

Click on image to download pdf. 

Let’s Talk about It

Prior to your next group project, involve students in a class discussion to identify the qualities of an effective group member. 

Design assessment tools to help you record evidence of students demonstrating these qualities and/or to help students reflect on their performance as a group member. 

Assess the Product of Group Work

It is possible to gather evidence of individual student performance when creating a product as part of – or as a result of a group task. The following suggestions come from an AAC Gr. 5 Social Studies task, but the ideas can be applied to other grades and subjects.

Create a division of labour for the content of the project. Organize the project so each student is responsible for a portion of the task. Each student would be assessed individually on the portion of content within their assigned area of focus. In addition to the specific content outcomes, research skills and/or presentation skills may also be assessed.

While the students have become an ‘expert’ on their portion of the topic, they are still responsible for the rest of the content. A graphic organizer can be developed to help students focus on key elements of the presentations of their peers.  A final summative response can be designed to help student synthesize the key points from the group projects. These tend to be focused on big ideas rather than on facts and details. 

A Day at the Museum

Click image to download PDF of student task.

Let’s Talk about It

 As you design an upcoming group project, consider ways to organize the project to allow for a division of labour based on content. 

How can you support students in acquiring the remainder of the content they require so they are not disadvantaged because of the decision to use a group project?

What key question can you develop to help students synthesize the ‘big ideas’ rather than focus on extraneous facts and details? 

3. Group Project - or Not?

Teachers make the decision whether to have students work individually or in a group, except for those rare occasions where the outcome specifies working in a group.

When You Have a Choice

The decision to use an individual or group task is dependent upon factors such as the following.

– availability of space, time and materials to allow for individual completion of the task

– determination of what evidence of learning is required (i.e., to what extent has individual performance as a group member previously been assessed; is this project the best way to gather evidence of individual student performance in regard to the content)

– students’ prior experience in working effectively in groups (could the content learning be compromised because group work is still at an early stage of development)

The Grade 5 Survival science task (in the adjacent column) has been developed as an individual task as well as a group task. It should be noted that the outcomes vary, depending on the option that is selected. The rubrics are also assessing different criteria.

These samples can be adapted to other subjects or grades. 

Survival Reward Challenge (Individual)

Click image to download PDF of student task.

Survival Reward Challenge (Group Task)

Click image to download PDF of student task.

Let’s Talk about It

As you plan an upcoming unit, consider where you might have previously used a group task. Is a group task still the most appropriate way to gather the evidence of learning you require, or would an individual task be a better choice?