GUEST POST: Who Benefits More From Peer Feedback: The Giver or the Receiver?
By Katie Marquardt
Katie Marquardt is a secondary teacher of history, geography, and economics, and has taught at international schools in Myanmar and Cambodia. Cognitive psychology is a special interest of hers, and she is always looking for ways to use education research to improve her classroom practice. She blogs at Pondering Pedagogy and tweets @KatieMMarquardt.
Dylan Wiliam advises that “feedback should be more work for the recipient,” advice that not only helps ensure feedback has an impact, but is also conscious of teacher time and workload. This is one of the reasons why I like peer feedback. It gets the students doing the bulk of the work, and ensures every students gets a comment, particularly when I find it hard to get to every student over the course of a lesson. It also increases student independence by reducing reliance on teacher feedback, and capitalizes on peer interactions that often happen regardless of teacher prompting.
But my colleagues express skepticism about peer review, because of the poor quality of feedback students sometimes give each other, and the challenges of managing peer review activities in the lessons. This is valid criticism, and I have seen these shortcomings in my own lessons, particularly when working with English language learners who may lack the writing skills to give their classmates good feedback.
Stumbling across a paper by Michael Graner (1987) got me thinking about other ways students benefit from peer review, beyond receiving comments (1). Graner identified the same limitations of peer feedback as my colleagues have, characterising it as “the blind leading the blind.” He noticed that the majority of time in peer review was spent reading and evaluating, and wondered whether the students gain more benefit as readers engaged in critiquing, rather than as writers receiving feedback.
To answer his questions, Graner conducted an experiment with two English classes. One class did the usual peer editing activities, in which students reviewed the work of peers and also received feedback on their writing. The other class did a revision workshop, where students critiqued two samples essays using a checklist, and then their own first draft using the same checklist; no feedback was given. Both groups revised their first drafts. He found that both classes made significant improvements from first to final draft, and that there was no significant difference between the two groups.
Another study by Chanski and Ellis (2017) looked at English classes on a timed writing assessment (2). Two of the classes were “givers” of feedback and two of the classes were “receivers;” all four wrote the same initial timed writing task. The givers read and scored two sample papers, and the teacher guided them in their critiques and scoring. They then read, scored, and gave feedback on the essays from the receiving class. The receiving class discussed the reading passage and rubric in more detail, and then received the feedback on their essays. All four classes then revised their initial drafts.
Chanksi and Ellis found that the giving group showed more improvement between the first and final drafts than the receiving group. More importantly, when the students did a second timed writing assessment, the giving group wrote better initial drafts than they did from the first assessment, while the receiving group wrote slightly worse initial drafts. This shows the students were able to improve on later tasks, and not just the task where they gave or received feedback.
Li, Liu, and Steckelberg (2010) looked at undergraduate education students who completed a Webquest project and gave peer feedback before revising for a final submission (3). They found that, once the quality of the initial submission was controlled for, those who gave better feedback produced better final products than those who gave poor feedback. However, there was no link between the quality of feedback students received and the quality of the final projects. This is an interesting finding teachers can share with their students, to help improve engagement in peer review activities.
One final interesting study is by Cho and Cho (2011), who categorized comments students gave their peers for an undergraduate physics lab report, to determine how the types of comments given and received influenced writing improvement, and how pre-existing writing skill and qualities of initial drafts influence the types of comments given (4). Comments were categorized by evaluation (whether they identified a strength or weakness in the writing) and scope (surface features, micro-meaning, and macro-meaning).
When students commented more on the strength of macro-meaning and the weakness of micro-meaning, their revised drafts improved more. Effects of received comments were limited to a negative impact from strength comments on surface features, reinforcing the results from Li, Liu, and Steckelberg (2010).
Cho and Cho’s most interesting finding is that stronger initial drafts elicited more strength comments and weaker initial drafts more weakness comments. While this is an obvious finding, it gets me thinking about how the assignments being peer reviewed can influence which writing features are focused on. Sample writing can be chosen that would invite comments on both strengths and weaknesses, as well as contain common errors that can be discussed as a class.
In general, students who give feedback do just as well or even better than students who only receive feedback. Depending on the needs of a class, then, a revision workshop like that done by Graner can be used in lieu of peer review activities, and students will still gain the same benefits they would from participating in peer feedback. This avoids problems caused by students coming to class without a first draft, managing many peer review discussions, and varying qualities of feedback given.
It also helps address issues of students being reluctant to give critical comments to their peers, or reluctant to receive critical feedback. One student from the Chanski and Ellis study (2017) shared that “It is easier to cut apart and criticize someone else’s writing than to hear it about your own. By focusing on someone else’s flaws you begin to see similarities between your writing and theirs making it easier for you to accept your own flaws.”
Giving feedback also puts students in a more active role than receiving feedback, allows them to see other ways of approaching a task, and puts them into the role of reader, gaining distance from their writing that allows them to look at it with a more critical eye (2).
Dylan Wiliam asserts that the purpose of feedback is to change the student, not the work, to improve their performance on tasks they have not yet attempted. By being focused on the feedback they give, rather than the feedback they receive, the student becomes responsible for identifying more general guidelines for writing and applying them to their work, rather than simply following instructions for fixing errors specific to their writing. This could help with transfer of skills to other writing tasks.
I tried Graner’s revision workshop in my own classroom, with two classes of Grade 6 Social Studies, all of whom are English language learners. The students looked at two anonymous examples of student reports, identifying strengths and weaknesses; we did one example together as a class, and they critiqued the second one in pairs. By discussing a common text, I found it easier to show them what I meant by “add specific detail” and “avoid repeating yourself,” feedback I commonly give. We ended by comparing the two examples and deciding which was better, which helped them think more about strengths and weaknesses. The following lesson, they revised their own reports; even students who previously thought they were done their report found places for improvements on their own. This format suited their age level and writing skills, and I liked how it placed the responsibility on them to find places to revise their writing. It could also serve as training for peer feedback activities held later in the year.
This research is not a criticism of peer feedback activities. Rather, it provides further support for the practice, but also looks at the mechanisms behind the benefits. By understanding how students benefit from peer feedback, we can understand how to best use it in our classrooms.
(1) Graner, M.H. (1987). Revision Workshops: An Alternative to Peer Editing Groups. The English Journal, 76 (3), 40-45.
(2) Chanski, S, and Ellis, L. (2017). Which Helps Writers More, Receiving Peer Feedback or Giving It? English Journal, 106 (6), 54-60.
(3) Li, L., Liu, X., and Steckelberg, A.L. (2010). Assessor or assessee: How student learning improves by giving and receiving peer feedback. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41 (3), 525-536.
(4) Cho, Y.H., and Cho, K. (2011). Peer reviewers learn from giving comments. Instructional Science, 39, 629-643.