Firstly, and most importantly, they are validated by research on evidence-based methods of teaching and learning. Research suggests that these approaches can help us to push up achievement and develop students’ skills in learning to learn. For many this is a hugely motivating idea, as we want learners to learn more and more effectively.
The challenges of embedding self and peer assessment
I have been a teacher and a teacher trainer for many years and I have noted that there are some challenges in embedding effective self and peer assessment methods into practice. Many comment that learners can be resistant to the notion of self or peer assessment, considering that it is the teacher or assessor’s role to assess work. They also find that many learners do not have the requisite skills to self or peer assess work effectively, lacking the depth of reflection and awareness of assessment criteria. Some admit that it is challenging for them to be consistent and persistent in their use of assessment methods across a programme, bearing in mind all the other things they need to fit into sessions.
Some suggestions for developing learners’ skills
So, it seems that both learners and teachers/assessors/tutors need to build assessment skills, to enhance learning. Here are some ideas of how to do this in practical ways.
1. Learners don’t always grasp our reasons for doing things and can misinterpret them in unhelpful ways, if we are not explicit about their rationales. It can be helpful to discuss with learners the value of developing their autonomy in self and peer assessment, showing the links to their longer term learning process and skills for everyday work and life.
2. Learners are not necessarily born with an effortless understanding of criteria and the ability to assess their work/skills against it so they need to be shown what the criteria mean and then practise assessing samples of written work or practical skills in a guided manner.
A common problem is a lack of understanding of key verbs such as describe, evaluate, define, as used in the criteria. A matching exercise can be helpful here – key verbs can be matched with a definition of what they mean plus an example paragraph showing how they are used in the context of a real task or assignment. Learners will need reinforcement on this so we should remember to concept check these key words frequently.
3. To build self and peer assessment skills, we can show learners samples of work and get them to assess these against criteria before revealing the actual grade. It can help to ask learners to highlight or underline examples of evidence for each point in the criteria sheet, so they see that grading is not some random process or a strangely mysterious thing….. This process works equally well on practical tasks using video clips of the activity in progress. After this, learners can start peer assessing work in college or in the workplace before handing it in for marking. Teachers/tutors often tell me that they need to be firm at this stage and insist that self and peer assessment columns are filled in thoughtfully before they accept work for marking. Learners don’t develop these skills and autonomy overnight, so persistence and patience is needed for learner training.
Some staff comment that they feel strongly that self assessment suits some groups better than peer assessment, due to dynamics and relationships in the group, so professional reflection should be exercised here, when first exploring these approaches.
Suggestions for building the skills of teachers/tutors/assessors
1. The process of embedding different assessment activities into your practice can take time, effort and attention. It can be really helpful to share ideas with colleagues about how and when you carry out assessment activities. Managers can support this process by arranging short CPD sessions with an assessment focus, e.g. a session to highlight key points from current research, a slot to discuss when and how assessment happens, a workshop to share assessment activities and materials and a slot to peer review assessment records. Coaches and mentors can provide 1:1 opportunities for you to reflect on the way assessment is embedded into session plans and Schemes of Work/Learning.
2. There is a wealth of thought-provoking and practical information out there about assessment, so I think it is an ideal time to review our practice in this area and see if we can enhance and benefit our learners. It can help to read up on current research and bring fresh ideas back into your context.
Here are some useful links for further reading: