Getting adult learners involved in peer- feedback for writing

So, today’s post is about using peer- feedback in the classroom. This post was originally written for the TESOL Greece Newsletter (issue 127) and since I will be doing peer feedback with my learners on Monday as part of my academic writing class, I thought it would be a  good idea to share that article here as well. So, let’s talk about peer feedback.

Feedback is a way for teachers to make suggestions on students’ written work and help their learners improve (Harmer, 2013). An alternative way to give feedback for writing is to get the students to peer-review and offer feedback. Peer-assessment does not replace traditional assessment but it does enhance the learning process (Topping 1998, cited in Peng).  But before moving on, what exactly is peer-assessment? It is:

an arrangement in which individuals consider the amount, level, value, worth, quality, or success of the products or outcomes of learning of peers of similar status.

                                          (Topping, 1998, cited in Peng 2010)

This feedback method works well with all learners, but especially adults. Therefore, getting learners to provide peer-feedback in an EAP, Business or any other type of English lesson aimed at adults is very beneficial. This article discusses why peer-feedback for writing can play an integral part in the everyday classroom routine and makes suggestions regarding different tasks a teacher ca use in class in order to encourage peer-feedback.

Why Peer-feedback?

There are many reasons why a teacher should encourage adult learners to give peer-feedback. Firstly, it promotes active learning as learners have to think about another student’s work. It helps build trust among students and is also a way to get students to co-operate and collaborate.

Why not peer-feedback?

It may affect the ‘balance’ between the teacher and the learner                                    (Gardner, 2000) as traditionally it is the teacher who provides the feedback and not the learner. The learners may not feel comfortable or may even feel unwilling to mark other students’ work. They might also be too generous and do ‘friendly marking’ which means that they are more interested in the fact that they are marking their friends’ work and not so much in the actual feedback.

While all these are quite ‘valid’ reasons why a teacher might avoid peer-feedback in the classroom, surely with lots of training, good monitoring on behalf of the teacher, and a constant reminder of why peer-feedback is necessary and how helpful it can be, both the learners and the teacher can benefit a lot from using the alternative feedback method.

Tasks that promote peer-feedback

There are lots of tasks that can be used in the language classroom in order to get the students to peer-assess. As the purpose of the article is to promote peer-feedback among adults, the activities chosen, are more appropriate for mature learners.

Using rubrics/checklists

When a teacher first introduces the idea of peer-feedback, it is essential that this is done in a more controlled manner. The teacher can make a checklist or provide rubrics according to which the student gives feedback to his/her classmate’s work. If the group is quite weak, instead of providing feedback on grammar, learners could be asked to check if their classmate has a thesis statement or if there is a main idea in each paragraph and so on. Another good idea is to get learners in groups of four and form a feedback reading circle where each student gets feedback from the three other members of the group.

Reformulation

Reformulation is when the student hands in a piece of writing and the teacher reformulates the original with a better version. Instead of the teacher providing a better version, it can be the learners who are providing the improved version of their classmate’s work.

To conclude….

Peer-feedback involves ‘’students in their own destiny’’ and encourages autonomy as well as motivates them even more (Brown 2004, cited in Peng 2010). It can be a very useful feedback method for every teacher as long as it is monitored and planned well. It will probably never replace teacher feedback but it is a method that can be used to get adult learners more involved in their work.

How often do you use peer feedback in your adult classes? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

References

Gardner, D. (2000). ‘’Self–assessment for autonomous learners.’’ Links and letters: Hong Kong p.40-60.

Harmer, J. (2013). The Practice of English Language Teaching. China: Pearson.

Peng, J (2010). Selected Proceedings of the 2008 Second Language Research Forum, ed. Matthew T. Prior et al., 89-107. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

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