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  • Writer's pictureSarah Alix

Pupil Responses to Peer Assessment and Feedback (A Trainee Project)

Florence Pullon and Sarah Alix

A Practitioner Study: How do pupil responses to peer assessment and feedback impact on their literacy progression?


Introduction

This action research project focused on an inquiry into the use of peer assessment during literacy lessons over a unit of work (half a term) based on non-chronological reports, to understand whether it was a useful strategy to improve the outcomes of children’s literacy development.

It became a target to see how assessment could be used for learning consistently and effectively, in a way in which pupils’ attainment, progress and outcomes were successful. As children received regular feedback, orally and through peer marking, they were supported to feel encouraged to respond immediately in order to improve their outcomes. It was also important that it was explained how each assessment would be conducted, so guidance could be given to pupils to reflect on the progress they had made throughout the lessons, and their emerging needs for subsequent lessons.


Literature

Assessment is usually measured against a set of specific learning outcomes or success criteria, related to the curriculum and unit of work that the learner has been following (McDonald, 2016). Authors of the book Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment, reviewed twenty studies in pursuit to find out whether assessment raises standards. The studies found that formative assessment produced significant and considerable learning gains of children in different age ranges (Black and Wiliam, 1998). Effective assessment has become such a key part of good teaching in schools today.

According to more current research, it has been found that formative assessment is the most powerful way to influence children’s progress. In a research study conducted for the Department for Education, it was discussed that the use of trackers and ongoing assessment for learning was vital (NCfTL, 2014). However, it has been argued that too much focus on children’s progress, levels, success criteria and check-lists can have a negative impact on their enjoyment of reading and writing (Corbett, 2017). As a result of this, despite discovering that different types of formative assessment are essential for children’s progress, development was needed to ensure that the peer assessment used was informative and enjoyable for the children to partake in.

According to research conducted by John Hattie, feedback has a significant and positive effect on learner achievement, especially when the learner feeds back to the teacher about their own learning (Hattie, 2009). Hattie sees this process as being ‘more visible’, because children are able to understand what ‘excellence’ looks like, and how they can improve and develop their own work in order to reach this level.

It has been suggested by Damon and Phelps (1989) that ideal collaborative learning should be high in both mutuality and equality. During this process, peers should have the same status and work on the same task together, which therefore supports this concept of equal and mutual learning benefits. This has influenced recent developments in the concept of peer learning. It has been suggested that this equal peer assessment dialogue can allow learners to construct their own meaning by translating their peer’s judgement of the quality of their work, into a next step (Elbra-Ramsey and Backhouse, 2015).


Methodology

An Action Research (AR) approach was used, using self-evaluation to improve practice. McNiff (2019) outlines the AR process as identifying the probable issue, looking at a possible solution, trying this out, evaluating, and then changing practice, examining meaning for the researcher as it emerges.

Research questions:

1) How does the use of peer feedback impact on literacy progress in my class?

2) How did pupils respond to the use of peer feedback?

The research was carried out in a small one form entry primary school in a year five class in rural Essex.

The use of observations of the children during their literacy lessons, as well as updating a reflective diary and using data from target tracker gave an in-depth understanding of how effective the peer assessment techniques used were in children’s literacy progression. Six children were selected, from lower, core and higher abilities, and photocopied their work from English lessons as supporting evidence of the study. Updating Target Tracker throughout this period, gave quantitative data in addition to the qualitative data as this was needed to draw conclusions on how much the children had progressed throughout those lessons. Before and after the research study, children’s opinions were gained of peer assessment through a simple questionnaire, which gave an insight into whether or not they found it useful. Methods were triangulated within the study (Taylor et al,. 2016). Further details of the methodology can be found in the original study from the Authors.


Data analysis

In summary, the questionnaires, observation notes and Target Tracker data were analysed in order to identify whether there were any recurring patterns, themes or other key information. Having regularly updated Target Tracker throughout the project, there was a clear indication of how the children had progressed in their literacy. During the data analysis process conclusions were drawn around the effectiveness of peer assessment on children’s literacy development. The project was very small-scale, and the intention was to improve practice, rather than intending to make a larger impact on governmental policy and developments.

The first lesson used peer assessment for two minutes at the end of the lesson. Looking at the observation notes taken on that day, there is a correlation between which children were in which group, and whether they received feedback. Some children did not swap books and did not receive peer feedback. Other children received feedback but did not respond to it; and some children were given appropriate feedback which was responded to in the subsequent lesson. As a result of this, the next day success criteria was created for the different groups of children, which enabled more responsibility for supporting the children’s attainment, progress and outcomes. It also ensured that all children were supported how to use the marking policy again, to make sure they felt confident peer assessing. Consequently, all children received peer assessment in line with the success criteria given at the beginning of the lesson.

After analysing the data, there were a number of questions asked and issues considered around the effectiveness of peer assessment on their progression. Out of the six focus children, it seemed more beneficial to some, than others, to receive peer feedback in order to improve their work. However, it was questioned whether all children valued each other’s’ opinions; whether there could have been a lack of understanding in what peers were asking of them; whether there was a lack of lesson time to peer assess; or whether the marking policy was too new for some children to embed. The research explored this throughout the data interpretation, which allowed reflection on the effectiveness of this strategy, and to think of ways this could be improved within future practice.

Firstly, relating back to the literature review, it has been argued that peer assessment should be collaborative and high in both mutuality and equality (Damon and Phelps, 1989). If done effectively, this mutual and equal dialogue between peers can allow them to judge their peer’s quality of work and give appropriate next steps (Elbra-Ramsey and Backhouse, 2015). This therefore made me question the extent to which the peer assessment going on during the English unit was mutually beneficial.

For example, for one child, after analysing his responses on the questionnaires it was questioned whether he did not value his peer’s feedback, and his previous experiences of using peer feedback; as he stated in the pre-project questionnaire that he did not think peer assessment was beneficial because “they sometimes just tick it anyways, without checking”- referring to the use of a success criteria.

Upon reflection, children could have been given more time in answering their feedback, instead of making it a quick task during a plenary or mini plenary. For instance, after reading a response to the pre-project questionnaire more time could have been spent with him and another small group of children, pre-teaching about peer assessment, what it is and how it could help.

However, the child who seemed to have benefitted most from this project, was a core ability child, who received constructive feedback and some verbal input from the peers who assessed her, which enabled her to make clear progress. It could be that she was able to take part in conversations and collaborations during the peer assessment periods, as both lower and higher ability children were able to give her feedback appropriate to the learning outcomes. It could also be that she valued her peer’s feedback just as much as teacher feedback, because as she stated in both pre and post-project questionnaires, she liked the extra ‘boost’ of motivation to improve a piece of work.


As a result of interpreting this data, factors such as a child’s ability, understanding of peer assessment and success criteria and the value of peer’s opinions could have impacted the extent to which children’s literacy progression was influenced.


Implications for teaching

Consideration needs to be given of ways in which pre-teaching certain groups of children can be carried out in order to give them the skills and knowledge to peer assess and respond to peer assessment and feedback, with a sound understanding. As a result of raising the understanding levels, perhaps then, children’s perceptions and values of peer assessment might change, if they see the benefits of effective and constructive feedback and collaboration between themselves and their peers.

Throughout the process, the researchers learnt that children gave more productive and efficient feedback to their peers when they were given specific success criteria. This is something the children had not received during usual English lessons, as they would usually use only the cold write success criteria. By analysing their responses within their work it seemed as though giving children further targeted success criteria to mark up against was more beneficial as they were given guidance on what a successful and good piece of work should like.


Conclusions

Conducting this project enabled the researchers to take the dual role as a researcher and teacher, seeking to find out how peer assessment can be implemented effectively, in order to support year five children’s literacy progression.

As discovered within the data analysis and interpretation, it was likely that peer assessment did not suit all children’s ways of learning. The researchers believe that peer assessment is an important aspect of the teaching and learning process even more so, when success criteria are given and potentially supported through pre-teaching before the lesson.


References

Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998) Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment, London: GL Assessment.

Corbett, P. (2017) How to Improve Marking in Primary Schools, [online]. Available from: https://www.teachprimary.com/learning_resources/view/how-to-improve-marking-in-primary-schools [Accessed 17 January 2017].

Damon, W., & Phelps, E. (1989). Strategic uses of peer learning in children's education. In T. Berndt. & G. Ladd (Eds.), Peer relationships in child development (pp. 135-157). New York: Wiley.

Elbra-Ramsey, C. and Backhouse, A. (2015) ‘So you Want us to do the Marking?!’, Peer Review and Feedback to Promote Assessment as Learning’, Journal of Pedagogic Excellence, 5, (1). https://www.beds.ac.uk/jpd/volume-5-issue-1-march-2015 [Accessed 16 January 2019].

Hattie, J. (2009) Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

McDonald, B. (2016) Peer Assessment that Works: A Guide for Teachers, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield.

McNiff, J. (2019) Action Research for Professional Development. http://jeanmcniff.com/ar-booklet.asp [Accessed 16 January 2019].

National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCfTL) (2014) Beyond Levels: alternative assessment approaches developed by teaching schools, [online]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/349266/beyond-levels-alternative-assessment-approaches-developed-by-teaching-schools.pdf [Accessed 5 February 2018].

Taylor, J. S., Bodgan, R. and DeVault, L. M. (2016) Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods: A Guidebook to Research, fourth edition, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Inc.



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