Peer feedback is at its most effective in a positive classroom culture where learning is valued and encouraged.
But how to develop such a culture? Research suggests several ways to do this:
- Clearly articulate classroom expectations. This means that students know what kinds of behaviour are appropriate and why, as well as the kinds of behaviour that are not supported by the group. Such expectations are ideally negotiated by the class as a group and, again ideally, they reflect the ethos of the school.
- Ensure that students feel comfortable and supported by their peers. This means that they respect each other’s opinions and feel able to ‘have a go’ rather than sit back, afraid of making a mistake. They know that everyone recognises that learning can come as result of mistakes.
- Be aware of social and emotional learning strategies and incorporate these into everyday activities to increase empathy and understanding of others’ viewpoints.
- Encourage risk-taking and intervene when ‘put-downs’ occur. This means that students are offered activities that provide opportunities to take those risks, to hypothesise and test their hypotheses with the help of peer feedback. It also means that the teacher is alert to the ways in which ‘put-downs’ occur: a roll of the eyes, a turning away, a sigh – understanding that these subtle put-downs can be just as damaging as the more obvious verbal comment.
- Provide students with activities that both require and develop cooperation, and explicitly teach strategies to encourage cooperation. For example, teach the language of negotiation and support, including asking clarifying questions, and identify the various roles that group members can play – both positive and negative.
- Make learning explicit by identifying learning intentions and sharing success criteria.
- Teach the language of feedback and use role-play to coach students in its use.
- Consider the physical configuration of the classroom. Does it foster easy interaction between students? Can the configuration be easily changed to allow for paired and group activities?
Consider using some of these peer feedback techniques:
Two stars and a wish
In this technique student identifies two things that a peer has done well (stars), in relation to the success criteria, and explains why. “You engaged your audience well because you made eye contact with a lot of different people and you used hand gestures and facial expressions.”
The student the expresses a wish for what the peer might do next time. “I wish that next time you might speak a little more slowly because sometimes I couldn’t understand what you were saying.”
The feedback sandwich
In this technique the student ‘sandwiches’ a suggestion for improvement between two positive comments. For example
Positive comment: “You engaged your audience well because you made eye contact with a lot of different people.”
Suggestion for improvement: “Perhaps next time you could also speak a little more slowly so that we can understand you better.”
Positive comment: “Your use of facial expressions and hand gestures was very good. You made us laugh.”
Medals and missions
When a student identifies what a peer has done well, he/she is awarding a ‘medal’.
When a student identifies what a peer needs to improve and offers advice about how to do this, he/she is suggesting a ‘mission’. (Geoff Petty)
Plus, minus and what’s next?
This technique can be used with younger students. The student looks at a peer’s work to identify a positive achievement in relation to the success criteria (the plus) and an area for improvement (the minus). He/she then makes a suggestion as to how the peer can improve. (What’s next?)
Students use a green highlighter in the margin of a draft piece of writing to indicate success criteria achieved, or an orange highlighter to indicate where improvement is needed. The suggestions for improvement are delivered orally.
Feedback using technology
VoiceThread is an example of a software program that can be used to provide peer feedback. Student upload their completed work (documents or pictures) and others record oral comments.
Googledocs allows students to create a document or a presentation which can then be edited or commented on by their peers.
A class wiki or blog provides a forum where students can publish and comment on each other’s work.
Edmodo is a software program that allows the uploading of documents and the recording of feedback.
Use an ipad to add voice comments. Although this article is about teacher feedback, the process could easily be adapted for peer feedback.
Teach students a variety of ways to provide feedback and then allow them to negotiate the form they will use.