Peer assessment: 5 strategies that every teacher should know

Peer assessment is often spoken of a key facet of Assessment for Learning (AFL).

The theory is that by encouraging your students to provide formative assessment of their classmates’ work, you can get them thinking about assessment criteria and demonstrate their achievement to assessors.

The reservation that many teachers have with peer assessment as a teaching strategy is related to fears about the quality, or otherwise, of the feedback that students will provide and uncertainty as to whether the feedback loop will be completed. Upon receiving feedback, will the student take steps  to improve the way they learn?

These concerns are understandable. Nevertheless, while peer assessment shouldn’t be seen as a ‘quick fix’, we feel that students who regularly engage in assessing their classmates’ work can derive valuable insights from the activity, and that these insights can positively inform the way they approach future assignments.

The key to peer assessment

A tip: if taking the time to plan and implement peer assessment is to be worthwhile, you should first provide examples of the types of comments and outputs that the student taking the role of assessor should provide.

It’s important to remember that, initially at least, your students will not find peer assessment easy. But, as with all teaching, taking the time to model how your students should complete an activity leads to the best results.

Anyway, without further ado, here are 5 peer assessment strategies that -- when used regularly in the classroom -- we believe will help your students learn new lesson material and produce better work.

1.       ‘Sell me an idea’

At the end of a lesson, ask your students to work in pairs to ‘sell’ an important concept that you have just covered, e.g. alliteration.

To do this, each student should write a one-minute pitch about the concept and then sell it in to their partner. At the end of the pitch, the student who is being sold to should say which two sales points (not covered in the pitch) would have helped persuade them to ‘buy’.

The student who was tasked with selling the concepts should write these sales points down for reference. Then, at the start of the next lesson, they should perform their pitch again, only this time incorporating the points originally omitted.

2.       Peer assessment cheques

Print off some ‘peer assessment cheques’ at the start of each term.

The cheques should each reference a skill and ascribe a numerical value to that skill. For example, you might decide that a cheque for the skill ‘Speaking confidently’ is worth just one point, but a cheque for the skill ‘Evaluating’ worth the top value of five  points.

In lessons, your students should then award cheques to each other whenever they think the skill in question has been demonstrated. Every time they do so, they should also provide a written explanation of why, in their opinion, the classmate deserved the cheque.

At the end of each week, your students can ‘cash’ the cheques they have been awarded by their classmates in exchange for rewards such as free time in the final lesson of the week, a small prize of your choosing, or points towards a competition to win a bigger prize at the end of term.

3.       What’s the criteria?

Introduce learning objectives at the start of each lesson. Then stage a short class discussion in which you establish how those objectives can be met by your students.

Your students should write the objectives and their fulfillment criteria down in their notebooks. Make them aware that they will be required to assess each other at the end of the lesson.

After the lesson, ask your students to swap books and comment on whether their partner has met the criteria (giving examples of where they think they have done so or failed to do so). Based on this feedback, your students should note what they will do differently in the following lesson.

4.       You mark it

Set your students a homework assignment. But get another student to do the marking by following marking criteria that you lay down.

Your students can do this with pen and paper, using a shared workspace such as Google Docs or by adding their feedback to an audio recording. After viewing the marks awarded by their peers, and considering the reasoning behind them, your students should re-draft their homework and submit it to you for formal marking.

5.    Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

Try getting your students to tackle a piece of written work or make a presentation to class. But then, after giving your feedback on their efforts, ask them to swap their work with a partner, revising the work in accordance with the feedback you provided..

They should write down one thing they personally ‘woulda’ done had they produced the original work. One thing they think their classmate ‘coulda’ done (for example, a point that could have been made or something else that would have strengthened the work). And one thing they think their classmate ‘should’a’ done (say an error or omission that they consider critical to improving the work).

Over to you

We hope this article has given you some inspiration as to how you might apply peer assessment strategies in your classroom.

Are there any strategies that you use to get your students thinking about assessment criteria which you would recommend to other teachers?

Share your thoughts with us on Twitter.

One more piece of advice: If you are interested in how Audio Notetaker can be used as part of a programme of peer assessment, book your place on one of our forthcoming schools-focussed webinars or email for more information.

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