Monday, May 18, 2015

Entry 56 IDT1415 - Peer Feedback: To what extent is peer-feedback a viable option in language learning?

I believe that there is a place for peer feedback in language learning as argued in my response to Henry's question in week 10. However, the issue of students' lack of assessment skills to be able to confidently implement this approach (Huang 2012:20) prevails in most contexts. I feel strongly about this because my experience as an assessor under various schemes reminds me of how difficult it was initially and hoe only experience has brought about mastery.  As underlined by Hounsell et al. (2007  making reference to the work of Eraut 1995; Morgan 2004; Claxton 1995) there is an ever present need to 'nurture the evaluative 'connoisseurship' or acumen that is expected of experienced assessors and which comes not just from familiarity with marking criteria alone, but from first-hand experience in applying those criteria to a varied range of submitted assignments or assessments and arriving at considered judgments'.  It is this experience I mentioned above of applying criteria on a permanent basis that makes the difference, what students lack and what tutors rarely implement. Also, as argued by Sadler (1989 in Nicol & Macfarlane‐Dick 2006) for students to be able to compare and take action on feedback (and in my opinion be able to give valuable peer feedback) 'they must already possess some of the same evaluative skills as their teacher'. Now, a skill is a technique which has been rehearsed and applied consciously so many times that it has become an unconscious behaviour, that is a skill (Oxford 2011). This tells me that for students to be able to 'have the same evaluative skills as their teacher' as Sadler argues, then students need to be given the opportunities to work on the necessary assessment and self assessment skills which will allow them to acquire develop these skills over time which in fully in line with  Yorke (2003) and Boud (2000 in op.cit.) amongst others  who argue that teachers then need to do more to strengthen their students' self-assessment skills.

As can be seen in Liu & Carless (2006) theirs is an 'ongoing' project which further supports my argument that although possible it is a strategy which requires training over time. I particularly like their idea of peer feedback as dialogue (p280) and see it as the would-be first step or 'precursor' as they call it in my own context while their peer assessment with students grading the work or performance of others as something not viable in the near future in my current institution. 

Many benefits are offered in support of the idea that peer feedback promotes learning. For instance, Falchikov (2001 in op.cit.) provides evidence that peer feedback enhances learning because of the articulation of subject matter with which student engage, students receive faster feedback from their peers than from tutors (Gibbs 1999 in Liu & Carless 2006), learning become public rather than private amongst others. Based on my own experience and evolution as an online student, I particularly agree with their statement that 'Once students are at ease with making their work public, we could create conditions under which social learning might be facilitated' and that the level of threat felt is minimised by the rapport built between peers. However, once again I would argue that as long as peer feedback is the aim, not peer assessment, then this would be a viable path in my context and would fully embrace Brown et al.'s (in Liu & Carless 2006) argument that students rarely resist informal peer feedback for the same three reasons given: 'dislike of judging peers in ways that ‘count’; a distrust of the process; and the time involved.' The latter being especially important as we are often constrained to cover the syllabus in the given time so that students are ready for the exam at the end of the school year.

Unfortunately, out of Carless & Liu's (op.cit.) three suggestions for the future only two would seem viable in my own context: strategies for engaging students with criteria - which already happens to a small extent in the marking of writing papers for Cambridge Preliminary and First Certificate exams, and cultivating a course climate for peer feedback - which is also discreetly and implicitly done through activities in which students display their work around the classroom and are asked to choose the best piece, usually writing, while preparing a justification for their choice either individually or in groups. Peer feedback integrated with peer assessment is far away from becoming a reality because of the constraints mentioned earlier.  It is encouraging to see that Carless & Liu's (2006) strategy for engaging students with criteria and quality is something I already do to some extent as they suggest (p287) involving students in the identification of standards and the criteria representing those standards. In my case, I get students to familiarise themselves in class and out of class with samples of written work marked at different bands with examiner feedback while asking them to identify the standards or features of what make a band 5 in First Certificate written tasks a band 5. This is followed by discussion and although difficult at the beginning of the school year - so 'introduced early on in their course' (Teaching and Learning Centre 2012), through practice and over time as I argued above, they develop to some extent this very specific skill which in turn makes them more aware of their own performance and when applied externally, of their peers'. Along the same lines and as argued by Sadler (2002 in op.cit.) high standard exemplars (typically previous student assignments) are more effective than a focus on criteria. Again, I'm thrilled to see this in the article as for years I have provided my CELTA, YL Extension to CELTA and DELTA trainees with samples of  assignments which I have carefully selected and collected over the years for them to 'see' the criteria 'in place'.


Hounsell, D., Xu, R. & Tai, C.M., 2007. Balancing assessment of and assessment for learning Guide no 2. Higher Education, (2), p.15.
Liu, N.-F. & Carless, D., 2006. Peer feedback: the learning element of peer assessment. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(3), pp.279–290.
Nicol, D.J. & MacfarlaneDick, D., 2006. Formative assessment and selfregulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), pp.199–218.
Oxford, R., 2011. Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies Applied Li. C.N. Candlin and D.R. Hall, ed., Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Teaching and Learning Centre, 2012. Self-assessment-and-peer-feedback.

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