I hate to say it but Peer Assessment is, in my experience, hugely ineffective. I know it’s probably the way I was doing it so couldn’t dismiss it out of hand but it never really works for everyone and can be a massive waste of time if every pupil doesn’t benefit. It seems to be one of those things we’d love to work, perhaps even convince ourselves that it does. However, I spent a lot of time teaching kids to critique each others work and they find it difficult. So I tried to find another way that worked.
Even using the ‘This was good when…’ and ‘Even better if…’ structures proved problematic. Asking them to comment on each others work instantly turned the room into what I imagine the Green Room at the ‘One Show’ to be like. Everyone is great and ‘I do so love your work’ and ‘No, yours is better’ and ‘I love everything about it.’. We all feel great about ourselves. But I hate the bloody ‘One Show’. If our pupils cannot accurately and consistently provide effective feedback to peers then it is at best unfair and at worst a complete waste of valuable time. So, what to do?
This year I’ve left three valuable notice boards completely blank. The complete back wall of my classroom. I no longer use it for posters of what Skellig might look like (yes, I know) or the life and times of Jem and Scout. (Aren’t posters just busy work? Do kids really learn anything from them? Another blog post, I think). Once a week, when possible, every pupil pins an example of written work on the ‘Feedback Gallery’ – no exceptions. I give them post its and ask them to comment on what they see. Again, comments are not always helpful but what they do see are examples of peer work which may be better than theirs. They begin to see where improvement is required. They also see inferior work which confirms that they are moving in the right direction.
What I’ve noticed is that, as the classes get used to using the Feedback Gallery and making their work public, they do spend more time on first drafts. Knowing that their work will be there for all to see is a key to focus and attention to detail. Some did not like it at first but began to understand the benefits. What I’ve tried to do is look beyond the strategy and think about the true benefits of Peer Assessment. I, like many I would presume, did try to persist with it even though in my heart of hearts I knew it wasn’t as effective as it could be.
It is difficult at times to face up to the failure of a strategy we’ve used. We try to paper over the cracks by concentrating on the ones who do everything well and give excellent feedback to peers. But it can never be all can it? Why persist with something which wasn’t helping the pupils who need it most? Structured, constructive feedback is what they need but, more importantly for some, modelling of good practice with examples. It’s all very well being laudatory and glowing to Adrian Chiles in the Green Room but our children deserve better.