In one of the previous articles, we have talked about various feedback techniques and how to use them in the lessons. One of the strategies mentioned was the so-called peer feedback. Not only it empowers students to be the experts, but also makes them gain control over their own learning. Isn’t it what teenagers sometimes lack?
However, peer feedback might lead to some potential dangers. Not all students feel confident about identifying their groupmates’ mistakes. They can mark the right answer to be wrong and even explain it at times! Also, they can be just not sure whether a mistake is really a mistake or ‘it’s just me being stupid’. One more issue is that teenagers might struggle with providing constructive feedback and, even worse, accepting criticism.
In this article, we will focus on teaching teenagers to give peer feedback properly.
Take your time
All lessons that include peer feedback should be planned well in advance. Provide enough time to familiarize students with peer response procedures and format. They should be aware of how to do that and, more importantly, why they are doing that. Start with asking teens what they actually think of the idea of evaluating each other’s performance. Explain why it is useful. Step by step, show them some strategies. Start with something small – a 30-second description of a picture rather than an essay. This way, your teens will soon get used to giving and getting feedback on a regular basis.
Create an environment
A comfortable environment is everything. Ideally, students should feel comfortable enough to share their piece of work and brave enough to assess a peer’s performance. Encourage peer support and make sure the feedback your teens give and get is valuable and respectful. You can make a list of ‘no-no’ phrases such as:
Everything is fine, I liked it.
I don’t like it.
You really don’t understand?
Just look at this, it’s terrible.
and everything of this kind which has a negative connotation or is judgemental. Building rapport with teenagers is not a one-day event. However, if from lesson to lesson you show them that mistakes are a way to grow and progress, they will feel much more relaxed in case of giving and accepting feedback.
Show the ropes
Why don’t you teach some basic techniques first? The most common one which we use in the lessons is ‘Praise – Ask – Suggest’. While evaluating a written or oral answer, students must first find something that they really like. Then, they ask a question to clarify some controversial issue. Finally, they come up with a suggestion on how to improve this issue. For example, this might be the feedback on a film review:
I really liked how you described the main character and told about the plot. That was interesting and bright, I’d like to watch this film now!
I noticed that you were using some words like ‘good’ and ‘interesting’ too often, they are repeated in almost every line.
Why don’t you think of some synonyms? Something like, you know, exciting, fantastic, gripping, or impressive.
One more technique to use is called ‘I noticed and I wondered’. You can exploit it for pair feedback or even working as a whole class. I love doing that after my teenagers have finished their drafts of essays, reviews, articles or other standardized pieces of writing.
When the drafts are ready, we put them on the walls of the classroom. Students walk around, read the papers and write their comments on sticky notes. The comments should start with the phrases ‘I noticed…’ and ‘I wondered…’:
Yes, getting rid of ‘What if I liked everything?’ can be tough. However, it’s totally worth it. To facilitate the process, you can ask learners to focus on something in particular, for example, text organisation, use of synonyms, or linkers. Higher levels can be more independent, though.
Why just drafts but not the complete papers? Well, first, I do believe that the one who has the final word is still the teacher. Second, when students get comments on their work in the middle of the process, they have a chance to edit the paper and improve it, unlike the situation when the comments are given at the end and happily forgotten after leaving the classroom.
Use the forms
You can’t expect your teenage students to provide each other with objective marking and profound commentaries without any support. What they need is guidance and clear, straightforward instructions on what to look for and what to do. You can help students a great deal by providing them with some forms or checklists. These documents will vary depending on the task. However, after a year or two of teaching, you will have a whole set of invaluable peer feedback forms, I’m absolutely sure.
I will share some of the forms we use with teenage groups. You can alter the focus of attention according to your needs and the level of students. We, personally, are always struggling with the use of synonyms and repetitions, so I highlight that in each feedback form.
The questions below are quite general and can be applied to almost every essay you meet in coursebooks or exam tasks.
Comparing the pictures
This form goes well with tasks where you have to compare two pictures, such as Task 4 in Russian State Exam or Part 2 in FCE:
All in all, teaching your teens how to give proper peer feedback is at times much more complicated than providing this feedback yourself. Be ready to realize that it does not work out well. Be open to observe the students thoroughly and make changes in the procedure every time it is necessary. Be prepared to battle against all the ‘Why should we?’ and ‘It’s good, I didn’t see any problems, no, really!’. And last but not least – model the same respect, attention to details, politeness and open-mindedness which you want your students to demonstrate during peer feedback sessions.