Within this action research project, we conducted our own inquiry focused on 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 personal target to see how we could use Known as AfL for short, and also known as formative assessme... consistently and effectively, in a way in that would improve pupils’ attainment, progress and outcomes. As children received regular feedback, orally and through peer marking, we wanted them to feel encouraged to respond immediately in order to improve their outcomes. It was also important that we explained how each assessment would be conducted, so we could guide pupils to reflect on the progress they had made throughout the lessons, and their emerging needs for subsequent lessons.
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). Black and Wiliam (1998) reviewed twenty studies to find out whether assessment raises standards, and found that formative assessment produced significant and considerable learning gains in children of different age ranges. Effective assessment has become a key part of good teaching in schools today.
More recent research supports the idea that formative assessment is the most powerful way to influence children’s progress. For example, a research study conducted for the The ministerial department responsible for children’s serv... found that the use of trackers and ongoing assessment was vital for learning (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, despite discovering that different types of formative assessment are essential for children’s progress, we needed to ensure that the peer assessment we used was informative and enjoyable for the children to partake in.
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, supporting 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).
We adopted an Action Research (AR) approach, using self-evaluation to improve practice. The AR process involves identifying the probable issue; looking at a possible solution; trying this out; evaluating it and changing practice as a result, examining meaning for the researcher as it emerges (McNiff, 2019).
- How does the use of peer feedback impact on literacy progress?
- How did pupils respond to the use of peer feedback?
We carried out the research project in a small one-form entry primary school in a Year 5 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 us an in-depth understanding of how effective the peer assessment techniques used were in children’s literacy progression. We selected six children, including lower and higher attainers, and photocopied their work from English lessons as supporting evidence of the study. Updating the Target Tracker throughout this period gave quantitative data in addition to the qualitative data, as we needed to draw conclusions on how much the children had progressed throughout those lessons. Before and after the research study, we sought the children’s opinions of peer assessment through a simple questionnaire, which gave us an insight into whether or not they found it useful.
In summary, we analysed the questionnaires, observation notes and Target Tracker data, in order to identify whether there were any recurring patterns, themes or other key information. Having regularly updated the Target Tracker throughout the project, we had a clear indication of how the children had progressed in their literacy. During the data analysis process, we were able to draw conclusions around the effectiveness of peer assessment on children’s literacy development. We were aware that our project was very small-scale, and the intention was to improve our own practice.
The first lesson used peer assessment for two minutes at the end of the lesson. 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 we created success criteria for the different groups of children, which allowed us to further support the children’s attainment, progress and outcomes. We also ensured that we explained to all children how to use the marking policy, 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, we considered various issues 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, we 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. We explored this throughout the data interpretation, which allowed us to reflect on the effectiveness of this strategy and to think of how 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 us question the extent to which peer assessment was mutually beneficial.
Upon reflection, we could have given children more time in answering their feedback, instead of making it a quick task during a plenary or mini plenary. For instance, in response to the pre-project questionnaire about whether peer assessment was beneficial, one child responded that he thought it was not effective because ‘they sometimes just tick it anyways, without checking’. In light of this, we probably should have spent more time 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 an 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 other 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 that she liked the extra ‘boost’ of motivation to improve a piece of work.
Implications for teaching
We would need to consider ways in which we can pre-teach certain groups of children in order to give them the skills and knowledge to peer assess and respond to peer assessment and feedback, with a sound understanding. By raising the understanding levels of peer assessment, children’s perceptions and values of it might change, especially if they then see the benefits of effective and constructive feedback and collaboration between themselves and their peers.
Throughout the process, we learnt that children gave more productive and efficient feedback to their peers when they were given specific 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 look like.
Conducting this project enabled us to take the dual roles of researcher and teacher, seeking to find out how peer assessment can be implemented effectively in order to support Year 5 children’s literacy progression.
As we discovered within our data analysis and interpretation, it was likely that peer assessment did not suit all children’s ways of learning. We believe that peer assessment is an important aspect of the teaching and learning process, and even more so when success criteria are given and potentially supported through pre-teaching before the lesson.
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].
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].