Cures for the Grading Blues: 5 Strategies to Improve Peer Review

Phillips' David Wilson explicitly teaches his students the traits of effective feedback.

Phillips’ David Wilson explicitly teaches his students the traits of effective feedback.

Grading can feel like one of the most cumbersome parts of teaching.  It’s time consuming to provide thoughtful comments and there’s no guarantee that the information will be applied to students’ work. The more students are able to refine their work before it gets to the teacher, the less tedious grading will be.

In theory, peer feedback should save teachers a lot of time and effort. However, the quality of student feedback is not usually up to par with that of the teacher.

Students need to be taught how to provide quality feedback and they need to buy in to the process in order to put forward their best effort.

If students are able to see how their feedback can lead to improvements in their peers’ work and if they can see how feedback from their peers can enhance their own work, then they are more likely to commit to the process of peer feedback.

Here are 5 ways to explicitly teach students how to provide quality peer feedback:

Elicit students’ ideas about what makes feedback useful or not:

  1. Have students recall a time they received feedback that wasn’t useful. What was the feedback? Why wasn’t it useful?
  2. Next, have students recall a time they received useful feedback. What was the feedback? Why was it useful?

Establish norms or criteria for quality feedback.

  1. Use students’ ideas to establish norms for providing “good” feedback.
    For example:

    1. Be kind* = avoid negative/mean language
    2. Be specific* = state what should be changed
    3. Be helpful* = provide an example for how it could be changed

This PDF from Expeditionary Learning provides a deeper dive into developing a culture in your classroom conducive to quality feedback.

Develop a common understanding of what quality work looks like:

  1. Have students read over the same piece(s) of sample work (e.g., written explanation, lab report introduction, explanatory model) and discuss the strengths and weaknesses in the work sample(s).
  2. Record agreed upon strengths and weaknesses on the board for all to see
  3. Turn the criteria into a checklist students can use to guide the peer feedback process

Provide students with sentence frames/stems for writing feedback:

  1. Positive feedback: “Something you did well that I want to incorporate into my own work is…because…”
  2. Constructive feedback:
    • “We think you should add…because…”
    • “We think you should change… For example…”
    • “We were wondering about… What do you mean by…?”
    • “We were unclear what you meant by… Can you explain it in another way?”
    • “We think you should include evidence from… to support your statement that…”
  3. Tip! Have students write each piece of feedback on a sticky note and place it in the appropriate spot on the work. This way they’re not marking up someone else’s hard work (the sticky notes will also come in handy in the next strategy…)

Have students evaluate the quality of various pieces of sticky note feedback

  1. Have students read one another’s feedback and evaluate each piece in terms of how well it addresses the norms. Students place the sticky notes into columns labeled: “very helpful,” “somewhat helpful,” “not helpful.”
  2. Have students practice revising a few pieces of the “somewhat helpful” and/or “not helpful” feedback to improve it based on their new learning.

Check out this video in which David Wilson, science teacher at Phillips Academy High School, walks us through several of these strategies in action:

You can read his step-by-step lesson protocol here.

Looking for more resources? These two videos from Expeditionary Learning offer additional insight into supporting students to provide quality peer feedback:

Austin’s Butterfly: This video illustrates how specific feedback from peers helps a student make huge strides in the quality of his work.

A Group Critique Lesson: This video illustrates how students can develop a common language around the qualities of good writing.

Peer feedback is a great way to help students see each other as resources, rather than looking at the teacher as the gatekeeper to learning.

If you try out some of these strategies in your own classroom, let us know how they go in the comments section below!

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