AfL strategies can be invaluable in providing feedback for pupils and developing insight into G&T learners’ individual needs. Clare Smale provides some practical tips for teachers

Peer assessment can involve formative reviews to provide constructive feedback, as well as summative grading: it can also include student involvement in the setting of marking criteria and decisions about evidence of achievement. Self-assessment enables students to become reflective and self-managing, to identify next steps in learning and move forward ‘under their own steam’. When these two strategies work well, the advantages are significant to all concerned and many of the identified issues can be addressed by:

  • helping students to see the value and validity of these approaches
  • ensuring the reliability of student judgements
  • maximising opportunities for students to learn from peer and self-assessment.

Advantages

  • Helps students to develop insight into their own performance by assessing the work of others.
  • Develops lifelong skills of evaluation and analysis.
  • Supports independent and autonomous learning.
  • Gives students a sense of ownership and thus increases motivation.
  • Treats assessment as part of learning, so mistakes are seen as opportunities rather than a sign of failure.
  • Uses external evaluation to provide a model for internal self-assessment of a student’s own learning (metacognition), encouraging deep, rather than surface, learning.
  • Promotes a ‘community of scholarship’.
  • Reduces the amount of teacher assessment but improves the quality.
  • Time for reflection or discussion with a critical friend can help individuals to ‘stand back from’ their own work and make sense of others’ comments.
  • Increases students’ attentiveness for activities such as presentations or group performances by peers (when they are assessing them).
  • Provides more accurate feedback about processes such as collaborative working (students are often in a better position than teachers to judge individual contributions).
  • Helps to clarify assessment criteria.
  • Gives students a wider range of feedback.

Possible issues

  • Validity of student assessment (address this by providing clear learning objectives and marking criteria; have more than one assessor for each piece of work; build in teacher moderation).
  • Debate about whether peer assessment should be used for formative assessment only, or can be used summatively.
  • Students may allow friendships, rivalry etc, to affect their objectivity.
  • Involving students in assessment practices may increase an obsession with grades.

Peer assessment – some practical tips

  • Make sure that students understand the assessment criteria and the characteristics of work at different levels (see example on the opposite page of text from booklets produced to help pupils understand their tasks, the marking criteria to be used, and how to peer-assess); this might involve discussion and looking at examples of work which meets/does not meet the criteria.
  • Provide prompt questions and a structure for recording the responses – a template can be useful in eliciting a rigorous approach.
  • Provide opportunities for constructive quality feedback alongside grades.
  • Use anonymous feedback to begin with (to overcome any feelings of ‘betrayal’ among friends).
  • Try using peer assessment in vertical groups (eg Year 6 assess Year 5 and vice-versa) to depersonalise the process and establish a culture of consultation.
  • Start with manageable tasks that are well suited to self or peer assessment.
  • Establish some ground rules for supportive student-to-student feedback (perhaps developed with colleagues as well as students themselves, to ensure consistency).

Some examples of peer/self assessment activiites are:

  • commenting on final or draft essays/reports
  • anonymously or publicly grading presentations/performance
  • proposing a grade for their own work, after seeing/assessing others’ work
  • discussing and suggesting improvements to others’ work
  • reflecting on improvements they could implement themselves
  • discussing in groups before collectively providing a grade and feedback.

Examples of information to help students understand a task and the marking criteria

Historical inquiry: What impact did WWII have on family life in Britain?

What do I have to do? … What will it look like?… How will I find this information?… What should I include?… Where do I start?… When does it have to be finished?… Am I being assessed? Yes! This will be assessed according to National Curriculum guidelines. To reach level 4 you need to: describe at least three different ways WWII affected family life. To reach level 5, you need to use sources and pictures to explain how and why family life was affected by WWII in at least four different ways. To reach level 6 or above, you need to draw on a number of different sources to explain different factors of WWII and analyse which affected family life and why.

Historical inquiry: What impact did WWII have on family life in Britain?

You are going to work with a partner to PEER MARK both pieces of work. Follow these steps: 1. Discuss the assignment and answer these questions:

  • What did you find most difficult?
  • What did you most enjoy?
  • What would you like to research further?
  • What conclusions did you reach?

2. Read the level descriptors carefully then read each other’s work. Use a coloured pencil to make notes in the margin by any of the following:

  • A particularly good point.
  • Something you don’t understand.
  • An interesting fact or source.
  • A well-explained opinion.

3. Use a coloured pencil to tick off each point you think has been met in the level descriptors. Go back to the work and label any parts of the work you think is level 5 or above. 4. Write an encouraging comment about the work, saying what you liked about it. Write down the level it has reached. 5. Re-read the level descriptors. What would your partner need to do to progress? Give them two targets to help them reach the next level. 6. Hand the work back and read the comments your partner made about your work. Do you agree? Discuss each other’s comments and ask about anything you’re not sure of.

Clare Smale is an experienced teacher currently running her own business providing consultancy, leadership coaching and Inset for schools www.inspired2learn.info

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