IMG-0025Peer feedback has great potential. It can help students gain a clearer understanding of an assignment’s expectations. It can provide valuable suggestions for improvement. It can highlight kids’ areas of expertise. And, hey, at it’s best, it can even cut back on a teacher’s grading workload! However, it can also yield the dreaded, waste-of-time response, “it’s good.” For the sake of all its worthwhile possibilities, I’ve been exploring ways to make it more meaningful in my classes.

Through lots of trial and error, I’ve learned three crucial elements:

  1. Make it purposeful. I like to think about the timing and reason for peer review. When working with the ILP, I like for my students to rely on peer reviewers during the second round of activities. At that point, they’ve gotten their feet wet with their skills, questions, and texts in Round 1, so they already have an idea about where their strengths lie and where they may feel uncertain. That means they can ask pointed questions of their peers and have a chance at the most meaningful feedback. They also have a little bit more riding on the quality of feedback in Round 2 because they know that it’s their last chance for help before entering Round 3, the one that’s scored summatively.
  2. Practice together first. Students need to learn the skill of peer review, just like they need to learn any other difficult skill. They need models and practice. In the last year, I’ve taken to having students underline elements of the rubric that correspond with their peers’ work, and so I’ve also taken to full-class calibration beforehand. Much like AP readers calibrate their scoring of open-ended questions and essays, I have my classes identify where model paragraphs or reading activities fall on the rubric. This helps them get a better understanding of what the rubric requirements look like in practice, and it also helps them become more comfortable with the rubric.

  3. Make sure everyone knows they have valuable contributions to make to their peers’ work. I’ve been dabbling the last two years with a modified “Critical Friends” approach to peer review. In this case, I have groups look at individuals’ work; each peer has a job to do. While Peer A presents her work, Peer B takes notes in a shared document, Peers C and D listen. Then, Peer A answers clarifying questions from Peers B, C, and D. Peers B, C, and D discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Peer A’s work while Peer A takes notes in the shared document. Then Peer A rejoins the conversation to respond to her peer’s discussion points and Peer B takes notes. During the entire conversation, Peer C acts as the “ruthless timekeeper” (a phrase I borrow from the brilliant Giselle Martin-Kniep) to make sure the group doesn’t spend too much time on any one element of the process. The next time the group reviews work, everyone’s role shifts, and each get a chance to contribute to the review in a different way.

I’m still learning how to navigate this in the most effective ways, and I find that each assignment and each group of students needs its own special tweaks, but if I can remember those three crucial elements above, my students stand a better chance at seeing the full potential of peer review.

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