- D.R. Sadler
An instructor's assessment of student learning is an important measure that requires expert judgment. Much can also be learned when students assess their own work and that of their peers, whether this assessment factors into grades or not. In many cases, students see things in their own or their peer's work that they can correct before passing it along to the instructor. They may also be able to communicate suggestions and critiques in a way that is less threatening and approachable than that of an instructor. If effectively structured and supported, peer and self-assessment can provide powerful learning opportunities for our students.
Key features of the strategy
In addition to providing opportunities for students to be more reflective and aware of their own learning, when we employ peer- and self-assessment strategies in our cases, we can increase student responsibility, autonomy and ownership for the learning. These kinds of activities also encourage critical reflection, a better understanding of their own judgment, and help them to develop self-regulation skills. These benefits, however, can only be realized when instructors prepare the students effectively to engage in them.
For either peer or self-assessment to be honest, reflective and effective, the instructor must establish a classroom climate in which they feel free and supported to evaluate their work. One way this can be achieved is when these assessments do not always factor into a student's grade. They also must be taught to develop the necessary skills and "look for's" to productively assess their own or a classmate's work. It can be helpful to model your own thinking on an example piece of work and also provide a checklist of specific elements or attributes that students can use in forming their feedback. Finally, the use of performance rubrics can be a helpful way to both prompt substantive feedback related to key features of the assignment and create consistency in the type of feedback desired. The following examples illustrate one or more of these key features in teaching practice.
Examples and Variations
Drs. Debbi Leialoha, Shelly Leialoha, and Sherry Leialoha-Waipa share an approach to peer-assessment called critical friends. In this approach, students submit weekly assignments to their small group (3-4 students) prior to submitting to the instructor. Students are provided with a rubric that encourages them to offer suggestions for revision and improvement, to better align the work with the assignment criteria (including the provided writing guidelines), and to approach the task in a respectful way that honors divergent viewpoints. They then submit the work to their instructor for additional feedback. Finally, they have the opportunity to revise the work based on both sets of feedback, tracking their progress through the development of a personal portfolio. The grade is derived from an equal weighting of participation in the feedback process and the quality of the final work submitted in the portfolio.
Peer-Assessment in Small Groups
Baker (2008) explores three different commonly used methods of peer-assessment of student performance in group work. She notes that the different methods can be used for development, evaluation or a combination of the two. Instructors can also use a point allocation approach in which she asks students to assign a given number of points to each group member based on their overall contribution to the group. A peer comparison approach challenges students to compare each group member based on different dimensions of the group work. Finally, instructors can ask students to develop project diaries in which they assess group members' contributions at various stages in the group project. Baker concludes the article with a detailed discussion of when these different approaches are most effective for both development and evaluation.
Developing Self-Assessment Skills
Dr. Maryellen Weimer relays an example of a student self-assessment example designed to help them set and then review goals they have for their learning. The first stage of this assignment occurs at the beginning of the course. Students are challenged to prepare a 750 word paper on their personal goals for the course, providing specific and detailed explanation. At the conclusion of the course, students are asked to review and analyze how well they met their goals. In the process, students assign themselves an overall grade based on their performance in the course. This grade constitutes one-third of the possible points for the assignment. Weimer suggests that one key benefit of this approach is that it encourages students to think about the relevance and importance of the course at the beginning of the semester. And, knowing that they would evaluate their progress at the end of the semester, they may regulate their learning accordingly.
Connections to 21st Century Skills and Technologies
Like reflection, peer and self-assessment can support the development of two key 21st century skills: knowledge construction and self-regulation. By engaging in self-assessment or in receiving feedback from their peers, students can deepen their understanding of the course content. In many cases, students may be more receptive to feedback from their peers, increasing the likelihood that they will internalize the critiques more fully. In the process of assessing their own work, students can gain insight on their own learning process and quality of work. This can help them improve their performance and work in the future.
Technology tools can assist with peer and self-assessment in a variety of ways. First, many learning management systems (e.g., BlackBoard) provide for the creation of assignment rubrics and opportunities to provide feedback in a variety of forms. Similarly, the editing and revision features in Microsoft Word and other word processing applications enable students to provide feedback and suggestions for revisions in a document. Finally, simple Web surveys can provide an easy way to capture and collate student self-assessment or peer ratings for further analysis.
What strategies do you use to help students be more reflective in your courses?
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