What are your best and worst memories from school? Odds are they came from social interaction with classmates. I have vivid memories of being picked last for every team in PE. Although not necessarily traumatic, it was peer assessment that shaped how I thought about my abilities.
Feedback from peers is an unavoidable, powerful force that influenes children, so establishing a classroom that is conducive to constructive peer feedback is key.
Done well, peer assessments can:
- Help students feel noticed and that their voice is valued
- Improve the real-life skill of listening and responding with constructive communication
- Relate to authentic assessment tasks you were already doing anyways; tasks used with peer assessments are usually communicative, not selected response quizzes or tests.
- Offer low-stakes, low-pressure feedback and are never graded
Peer assessments can be done more or less formally and can be different for different ability levels, or even for different personality types. They can be whole-class responses like “Let’s clap for (student or group name)” or small group/pairs. They can be “double-blind” with no names on students’ work, or kids can write tbeir names to proudly show off their best work from the week.
One size doesn’t fit all. Informal, low-key, and simple is better (as is true of almost all assessments). Don’t bother with a handout when a stack of heart-shaped Post-Its will do. Don’t spend 30 mintues deeply examining every part of a partner’s text when a simple “I liked when you said…” and one line from the text will do. Peer assessments (again like all good assessments) should be less of a chore and more of a celebration.
Peer feedback should never force output. Nonverbal assessments take a little more creative thinking, but just start small. For example, after a whole-class shared reading, children can write or illustrate/label an alternative ending. Trade retells and share with a partner (yes, some L1 will happen but that’s all part of the silly stories fun). Draw a line on the board: “bizarre———normal” (as in a forced-response assessment). If an evaluator is in your room, make sure you look them in the eye as you say “Evaluate your partner’s text.” Note that prior to this, I established expectations for positive feedback and my kids know from our crazy stories together that weirder is better.
There will be a handful of students who beg to have their stories read to the class, insisting theirs is the most creative. Silliness will ensue. While other classes have kids staring at the clock at 2:50, my students relish the last ten minutes of class when they get to shine.
English language learners don’t get noticed (assessed) in a positive way as much as other students in the mainstream. Why not help them in a scaffolded, structured way to navigate childhood and adolescence by turning peer interaction from a source of angst into a confidence-builder?
For further reading: “The Language of Trees” from TPRS The Easy Way by Ben Slavic