Research suggests that peer feedback is most effective when students feel comfortable with each other and supported by their peers, respect each other's opinions and feel able to take risks and make mistakes.
Teachers create an environment in which risk-taking is accepted and there are no 'put-downs' from other students when mistakes are made. They always intervene when 'put-downs' do occur, making certain that students understand there is no place for this in a learning classroom.
Teachers deliberately conduct activities that serve to develop an atmosphere of cooperation, support and trust and explicitly teach students how to give feedback and how to receive feedback.
They model the process in a very explicit way, articulating for students what they are doing and drawing attention to the language they are using. Role-play is useful here, followed by a debrief.
The physical configuration of the classroom should lend itself to students working together in pairs and groups, which in turn facilitates exchange of information and peer feedback. Clusters of tables or desks make more sense than lines or semicircles, although there needs to be enough flexibility for desks or tables to be quickly rearranged to allow for whole-class activities as well as group or paired activities.
With older students, a basic understanding of learning styles can assist in helping students to understand that not everyone learns in the same way, and that different ways of learning are more or less effective for different people.
Discussion with students about learning styles also encourages the development of metacognition in relation to their own learning styles and preferences.
- Black, P et al. 2003, Assessment for learning: Putting it into practice, Open University Press, Maidenhead, England.
- Clarke, S 2005, Formative assessment in the secondary classroom, Hodder Murray, UK.
- De Bono's Thinking hats wwwfp.education.tas.gov.au/english/pdf/six%20hats%20teachers%20summaries.pdf
- Glasson, T 2009, Improving student achievement: A practical guide to Assessment for Learning, Curriculum Corporation, Carlton South, Australia.
- Learning styles: see www.wvabe.org/CITE/cite.pdf for a description of learning styles and hints on how to teach students with particular preferences
- Sullivan, A 2002, Enhancing peer culture in a primary school classroom. Paper presented at the Australian Association for Research in Education International Education Research Conference, Brisbane, Australia (downloaded August 2008 from www.aare.edu.au/02pap/sul02200.htm)
A debrief of the role-play concentrates on questions such as:
- Did you find it difficult to explain to X how she might improve her work?
- How else might you have explained this?
(or to the class as a whole: What else might Y have said when she wanted to tell X how she might improve her work?)
- How did you feel when you were given this feedback?
- How would you prefer that to have been said to you?
- Do you now have a clear idea of what you can do to improve your work?
- Is there any other information that you need?
- What did you learn as a result of providing this feedback to X?