Teaching Students to Give Peer Feedback
At the beginning of the school year, when I tell my ninth graders that peer review will be a part of our writing process, they almost unanimously disagree. Unfortunately, many of my authors have had a less than positive experience with this pastime, which is regrettable.
My more experienced writers report that they practically never receive a critique that goes beyond fundamental norms, but my developing writers report that they lack confidence in delivering input that goes beyond basic conventions themselves. It should come as no surprise that people are frustrated: Teachers are well aware that effective teaching is a difficult skill that requires deliberate practice on the part of the teacher. Similarly, when we encourage students to provide feedback to one another, this is a more involved process than merely swapping papers and identifying problems.
To make peer feedback more focused and relevant, I’ve found that defining excellent feedback, providing disciplined routines, and teaching feedback as I would any other basic skill have all been beneficial strategies.
THE DEFINITION OF SUCCESSFUL FEEDBACK
In my experience, few high school freshmen have understood the conventions of writing well enough to serve as dependable editors after their first year. As a result, I instruct my students to comment on each other’s work rather than correcting it directly.
My pupils concentrate on the development of ideas, clarity, and organization to make sense of the writer’s writing. Of course, sloppy language can hurt a reader’s experience, but rather than asking students to use editing marks to correct a peer’s sloppy syntax, I urge them to write whole sentences to one another:
This is puzzling since I am unable to understand the direction of your discussion.
I’m not sure who the pronoun “they” refers to in this phrase.
Explain why you chose this particular example from the book a little more thoroughly.
I loved how you used key terms from your hook again in your conclusion to tie everything together.
In addition, I teach students how to memorise a special acronym that stands for “excellent feedback”: “SPARK.” Feedback should meet as many of the following characteristics as feasible to be valuable to a writer:
Detailed: Comments are associated with a specific word, phrase, or an entire sentence.
Prescribing feedback is similar to a medical prescription, in that it seeks to alleviate an affliction by prescribing a solution or plan to improve the work, such as proposed adjustments or links to useful resources or examples.
Actionable: After reading the criticism, the peer will have a clear understanding of the steps that need to be taken to improve.
Specific: The feedback makes clear reference to the task criteria, requirements, or target competencies in question.
Kindness: All comments must be expressed courteously and encouragingly.
Some of the groups I’ve taught have taken to SPARK right away, while others have needed more time to get used to it. This type of group requires student-friendly versions of the consultation protocol or tuning procedure to promote focused conversation while still allowing for the participation of all participants.
I also establish a minimum number of high-quality comments as a guideline, but I emphasise to students that sometimes less is more.
FEEDBACK FROM THE MODELING SPARK
For SPARK feedback, as with any other skill that I teach, I begin by modelling it on a sample of student writing. While students are assisting me in determining what aspects of a book are effective or ineffective, I explain my thought process and teach them how to provide quality SPARK-based comments to the instructor. Following that, as a class, we analyse various examples of feedback statements before determining whether or not they would be valuable to a writer.
Students are also given the same example paragraph to practice offering feedback on their own, which allows them to gain valuable feedback practice. We use group and class conversations to spread the wealth of information that has been provided.
When it’s time for live peer review, I evaluate students’ performance by providing them with feedback on their comments. Following that, students provide instances that they believe are particularly useful. Before leaving class, students fill out exit tickets with their thoughts on the greatest feedback they heard as well as the best feedback they provided.
At the end of the day, excellent peer review should supply the writer with useful advice for growth while also enhancing the reviewer’s capacity to evaluate the effectiveness of a piece of written work.