Stacey Hughes, former teacher and current teacher trainer in the Professional Development team at Oxford University Press, shares some practical tips on getting your students to assess themselves, and each other.
We all need a fresh set of eyes sometimes. Successful writers or speakers often ask a peer for feedback. So, what is group, peer and self-assessment in the language classroom? For starters, it is not necessarily part of grading – we are not asking students to give each other a mark that will then count towards their grade. What it should involve is peer-to-peer communication about what is good about a piece of work and how it can be improved. It involves some learner training and it is important that assessment is not aimed at the individual, but at the work.
In this article, I’ll give examples of how group assessment might work for a presentation, how peer assessment might work for writing and how self-assessment might work in several contexts.
Preparing students to peer assess
Peer assessment may be new to students, so it is important to show them why it is a good idea, how it can benefit them and, most importantly, agree to some behavioural guidelines. Talk to your students about the benefits of peer assessment and get the class to draw up a list of guidelines. Some key points are below:
- Peers can help us review our work so we can get a better grade.
- Learning to help each other is a skill that will be used in a job.
- Assessing a peer’s work can help us develop our own work by making us more aware of how a piece of writing or speaking affects the audience.
- Comment on what is good.
- Don’t make personal comments – just comment on the work.
- Don’t judge. Be helpful.
- Don’t just say something is bad or good. Say what is bad or good and why it’s bad or good.
- Try to explain how it could be better.
Group assessment – group assesses group
As part of preparing for group presentations, set a date when all groups present to another group. You may need to send some groups out or if your classroom is suitable, just group them around the room. Give each member of the groups a sheet to fill in (see the example below) to help guide their comments. For a presentation, there are a number of different aspects that you might want groups to comment on. Create a feedback sheet that reflects what you have taught and what you will be grading on. The example below is fairly comprehensive and includes example student comments.
|Please write a comment|
|Structure||Is it clear?
Is there an introduction?
Is there a conclusion?
|You need an introduction. I wasn’t sure what you were going to talk about. You could say what your conclusion is. The main body was clear.|
Did each person’s contribution connect with the others’?
Did each person contribute equally?
|I really liked your topic. It was interesting. Maybe you could refer to each other’s section to make the presentation feel more connected. I think everyone spoke for the same amount of time.|
Did they add to the content?
|The visuals were clear and made the presentation more interesting.|
|Body language & voice||Confident?
|Raul – very confident; good eye contact
Maria – I couldn’t hear you well; please speak more loudly Nida – maybe more eye contact; maybe use note cards instead of reading from a paper
|Language & pronunciation||Clear?
Key words pronounced clearly?
|Mostly clear. Raul, I didn’t understand what you said about the water on the roads. Nida – you were reading, so it didn’t sound natural. Maybe practice in front of a mirror.|
|Answering questions||How well did the group answer questions?||You answered questions well. You have good knowledge of the topic.|
Peer assesses peer
As part of the writing process, ask peers to assess each other’s written work. Sometimes students think that they can’t judge another’s work because they think their English isn’t good enough. To help students realise that their contribution can be valuable, make sure have clear guidelines for what to look for in each piece of writing. Tell them that their goal is not to find every grammar mistake, but to just comment from the reader’s perspective.
The example below (with example student comment) is based on a paragraph about a holiday.
|Please write a comment|
|The structure is OK. You need a topic sentence. Your sentences are very short. You need to combine sentences 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. Maybe you can use and and but.|
|Content||Does it answer the question?
Does it make sense?
Why is it interesting?
|You wrote about your holiday, but not about your feelings. You need to include your feelings. It makes sense. It is interesting because I have never been to Thailand.|
|You used good words like hotel reception and flew. Grammar is good, but past of take is took. You need to capitalise the city. Spelling is good.|
|Presentation||Indented paragraph handwriting||You should indent the first sentence. Your handwriting is very clear and neat.|
Self-assessment is not only useful as part of the writing process, but can also help students see the progress they are making.
The following simple checklist is an example of how to raise a student’s awareness of what they should be including in writing. It also gives them guidance on how to go about editing their work. It is based on writing a summary and review of a story.
- Have you got two paragraphs?
- Is the first paragraph a summary of the plot of the story?
- Is the second paragraph about your views on the story?
- Did you give reasons for your opinions?
- Do you have topic sentences?
- Look at your grammar: did you use present tense?
- Look at your vocabulary: did you use some of the words you learned to describe plot? Did you use words like, because and for example?
Students can also assess their speaking performance in pair and group work. This could help motivate students to speak in English when it is often more natural to use the L1. Make a simple checklist which highlights the goals for speaking in pairs or groups:
- I spoke in English
- I asked another person a question
- If I didn’t understand, I asked for clarification
- If someone wasn’t speaking, I asked them for their opinion
- When I didn’t know what to say, I said it another way
Can-do statements are a great way for students to assess whether or not they have achieved language aims. They should be very specific; for example, they can be directly linked to a unit. Collectively, these will help students see the progress they have made over time.
I have finished unit X and I can:
- Use the past tense to talk about what I did yesterday
- Use words like, last week, yesterday, a month ago in a sentence
- Ask someone questions about what they did last week/ last month/ last year
- Understand someone telling a story about their problems last week on the train
This article first appeared in the March 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.