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Peer and self assessment

‘Teachers can create wonderful lessons by facilitating debates on ideas and providing guidance on the next learning steps but it is only the learner who can do the learning; it cannot be done for them by the teacher. In other words, students need to be able to self-assess.’

Weeden and Lambert, 2006

Topics on this page:

  • Introducing students to peer and self- assessment
  • The importance of success criteria
  • The value of formative peer assessment
  • Self-assessment and its role in self-regulation and metacognition
  • Case studies to explore
  • Reading

Introducing students to peer- and self-assessment

Peer- and self-assessment are powerful forms of feedback. Wiliam talks about self-assessment activating students as owners of their own learning, while when peer assessing students are acting as a teaching resource for each other. 

Both give students the opportunity to think carefully about their own learning, but both approaches require students to have secure subject knowledge of the topic they are working at. Without this there a danger that misconceptions will be replicated.

A new teacher should implement peer- and self-assessment slowly. Start small, especially if students are not used to this way of working. At first, ask them to check work in simple ways such as spelling of key words on maps, looking for titles, direction arrows, a key and a scale. 

Move on to asking them to mark each other’s work by commenting on one good point and one thing to develop. Expect them to give simplistic feedback to each other initially. To ensure feedback is useful, you need to provide students with a clear mark scheme or success criteria, and make sure that the improvement points they identify are reflected in this.

If the process of peer-assessment is unfamiliar to students, they will find it challenging at first. You should model it deliberately for them. The steps involved need to be transparent so they can be easily understood; speak aloud your thought process at each step. Check that students apply criteria correctly and slowly they will build up their assessment ability.

  • Read Weeden and Lambert (2006) Section 7 Self and peer assessment 17-20.
  • Read Gardner et al (2015) pp. 33-5.

The cooperative nature of peer assessment is emphasised in this reading. Students work together to improve and teachers have time to intervene and discuss work with individuals. The authors also point out that this approach exposes misconceptions to be tackled.

The importance of success criteria

For peer- and self-assessment to work effectively, there must be clear assessment criteria that are fully described in ‘student-speak’ so they are able to understand exactly what is expected of them. Getting students directly involved in assessment helps them to develop their mental model of what success looks like.

The advantage of peer assessment is that students find it easier to recognise success and problems in other’s work than their own. Moreover, the act of thinking carefully about someone else’s work is powerful for their own learning. Wiliam points out how students can often be tougher in comments on their peer’s work than a teacher might be!

After students have applied the criteria you have provided, you can take this a step further with students contributing to the assessment criteria. Transferring ownership to the students in this way can foster deeper engagement with assessment and further impact their learning.

An interesting task to find out what criteria students would choose to use themselves is to give each group several examples of work produced from another group (without names) and ask students to judge the work of their peers. They have to decide which is best and give the criteria they used. Taking this further, you could ask groups of students to work out the criteria for marking a particular piece of work. Then they mark each other’s work using these criteria.

  • Read Enser (2019) pp. 97-9, who points out that peer feedback could be the blind leading the blind unless students are coached into what makes feedback constructive and actionable.
  • Read Harris (2017) chapter 12.

The value of formative peer assessment

As Wiliam explains in the video clip, students marking each other’s work is summative peer assessment, but it is formative peer assessment that brings greater benefits. This involves peers helping each other to improve their work. If a teacher encourages students to support each other’s learning in a structured manner, it can significantly increase the meaningful dialogue about geography and learning that students engage in.

A teacher needs to have good techniques in place to monitor accuracy and quality of dialogue when formative peer assessment is happening. The ‘blind leading the blind’ scenario mentioned by Enser has to be avoided. But if this is secured, formative peer assessment is potentially a powerful strategy for learning because it forces students to internalise the success criteria. When they have done this, they will understand how to improve their own work, bringing all-round gains. Peer-assessment can, therefore, help students to develop and hone their own self-assessment skills.

Peer tutoring is the term used by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) toolkit for ‘learners working in pairs or small groups to provide each other with explicit teaching support’. Their review found a positive impact on both student tutors and tutees and identified that peer tutoring was most effective when used to ‘review or consolidate learning, rather than introducing new material’. They also found that low attainers typically receive additional benefits from peer tutoring.

Self-assessment and its role in self-regulation and metacognition

Effective self-assessment is a process by which a student thinks independently about their own work and how it could be improved. They should be taught how to check their own work regularly and identify what they have done well and where they can make improvements. 

You should actively encourage all learners to take a role in their own assessment and monitor their own progress. AfL is based on the principle that students will improve most if they understand their learning goals and their strengths and areas for development as learners.

Self-assessment helps students to develop as independent learners and contributes towards self-regulation and metacognition. Some students will learn assessment skills quickly, while others will take longer to understand the process. Engaging with success criteria and giving feedback in peer assessment will help students to build the confidence to assess their own learning. They will develop metacognitive skills through discussing work with others as well as reflecting on their own work.

  • Refer to the ‘Clarke framework’ described in Weeden (2017), p. 195, and Gardner et al (2015), pp. 33-5.

One of the additional benefits of peer- and self-assessment for teachers is that it can reduce their marking load and give them more availability for interaction with individuals and small groups in lessons.

Case studies to explore

  • Gleen (2016) for examples of constructive marking that involves students’ active engagement.
  • Hutchings (2003) for involving 14-19 students in self-assessment.
  • Jenkinson (2010) for how students assess extended writing.
  • Walshe (2012) and (2017) for a strategy for encouraging students to reflect on their own learning by using a learning journal.

Reading

  • Biddulph, M., Lambert, D. and Balderstone, D. (2021) Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience, 4th edition, Abingdon: Routledge, pages 223-30.
  • Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998) Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment, London: School of Education, Kings College.
  • Enser, M. (2019) Making Every Geography Lesson Count, Crown House Publishing.
  • Gardner, D., Weeden, P. and Butt, G. (2015) Assessing progress in Your Key Stage 3 Geography Curriculum (eBook), Sheffield: Geographical Association.
  • Gleen, J. (2016) ‘Marking books’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Hutchings, P. (2003) ‘Formative assessment makes a difference’, Teaching Geography, October.
  • Jenkinson, C. (2010) ‘Using empathy to encourage extended writing at key stages 3 and 4’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Walshe, N. (2017) ‘Literacy’ in Jones, M. (ed) Secondary Geography Handbook, Sheffield: Geographical Association, chapter 15.
  • Walshe, N. (2012) ‘Dialogic diaries: having conversations to develop students’ geographical learning’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Weeden, P. (2008) Think Piece – Assessment for Learning, Geographical Association on-line.
  • Weeden, P. (2017) ‘Assessing Geography’ in Jones, M. (ed) The Handbook of Secondary Geography, Sheffield: Geographical Association, chapter 14.
  • Weeden, P. and Lambert, D. (2006) Geography Inside the Black Box. London: NFER/Nelson.