Empowering Students to Give Feedback

How many times have you made a suggestion to a sibling, spouse, or child only to have them ignore your advice, continue to struggle with an idea or issue?  After several more hints or suggestions, he or she will hear the advice from a friend and take it as Gospel…as if they’d never heard that idea before!  When we renovated our home several years ago – my husband and I went through rounds of this, but eventually got all the projects completed successfully.

The same can be said for our students.  Face turned blue yet from giving the same feedback?  In her article, Susan Taylor suggests that the key to improving skills is empowering students to give feedback.  Here she refers to writing, but I believe the techniques she suggests can be applied to any content.  Enjoy the read.

Have a great week!

Getting Students Acting as Peer Editors of Each Others’ Writing

In this article in The Journal of Adventist Education, Susan Taylor (Andrews University, MI) says that teachers spend many, many hours reading and commenting on students’ writing assignments, trying to correct errors and help students become better readers of their own writing so they will become better writers. But all that work doesn’t seem to be paying off – many teachers have observed that students rarely make use of the comments they receive. “With so much time and energy devoted to a single activity,” asks Taylor, “why doesn’t Johnny write better?”

The solution, she believes, is getting students to read and comment on classmates’ writing. “Such opportunities for peer review can help students improve their reading and writing, as well as learn how to collaborate effectively,” she says.

Of course peer review can be an ineffective process. “I liked your story about the horse, but I think you should add a little more detail and maybe change the last two sentences,” is a typically unhelpful comment from a classmate. Here are some common problems:

  • Many students feel uncomfortable passing judgment on peers’ writing, and bland comments like “I loved your story” get them off the hook.
  • Friendships make some students biased, even dishonest, in the comments they give. A critical comment could sour a relationship or be taken as a hostile gesture.
  • Some students give more thoughtful feedback than others, and highly proficient writers may discount comments from classmates who are less adept.
  • Many students don’t know how to use the feedback to revise their writing and may react defensively to classmates’ criticisms.
  • Some teachers assume their students already have the skills to give helpful feedback (which few do) and fail to give student editors the necessary guidance.             But Taylor says two peer-review protocols can make the process a powerful tool for improving student writing. Before each one, the teacher emphasizes the importance of peer review, provides students with detailed rubrics of effective writing, and offers guidance on giving feedback.            • Drafting – The class is divided into groups of three and students read all the essays produced by the group, commenting both in the margins and at the end of each paper. During the next class period, they share comments and reactions.             Why does peer review work? First, language, thought, writing, and learning are social in nature, and working in collaborative groups helps students take advantage of a powerful instructional process. Second, peer review makes students more perceptive readers, more attuned to details in any piece of writing. Third, peer review reinforces values about the way writing should be taught – through respect, negotiation, and cooperation. Students become more aware of each other’s needs, which cultivates a spirit of mutual responsibility. Peer interaction helps young writers choose which criticisms to take seriously, and that makes them more confident writers. “Editing makes one a better writer, writing makes one a better editor, and both make one a better thinker,” says Taylor.
  •             Fourth, students get lots of practice at formulating and communicating constructive feedback to their peers, as well as responding to comments on their own writing. Fifth, students make the transition from writing primarily for their teachers to thinking about a wider audience. Finally, peer review teaches students valuable lessons about teamwork. “Collaborative experiences are fundamental to empowering students as communicators, both in school and in their future careers,” says Taylor.
  •             During both PQP and Drafting sessions, Taylor recommends that the teacher maintain a “hands-off” approach, monitoring the groups and keeping them focused and commenting appropriately at the end on how things went. “When students are given the proper tools,” she says, “they can function with little input from the teacher.”
  •             • PQP: Praise, Question, Polish – Groups of 2-5 students take turns reading each others’ drafts aloud as other students follow along in copies the teacher has made for them. “This oral reading helps writers hear how well the paper flows and independently identify possible changes,” says Taylor. Students then react to the piece by writing comments on their PQP form: Praise: What is good about the writing, and why is it good? Question: As a reader, what do you not understand? What would you like clarified? Polish: What specific suggestions for improvement can you make?
  • For these reasons, few teachers use peer review effectively, if they use it at all.

“Can Peer Review Help Johnny Write Better?” by Susan Taylor in The Journal of Adventist Education, April/May 2014 (Vol. 76, p. 42-46), no e-link available (spotted in Education Digest, October 2014 (Vol. 80, #4)

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