Exploring the Nuances of Peer Feedback

Over at the Learning Scientists, Katie Marquardt digs into peer feedback.

On the one hand, we can see many reasons that peer feedback would be beneficial.

It means that students are doing more of the work than we are–and, as we know, “the one who does the work does the learning.”

And, the opportunity to give peer feedback provides students with the responsibility and autonomy we want to be teaching.

On the other hand, those benefits don’t always materialize.

As Marquandt writes:

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.

If we can imagine good and bad sides to peer feedback, what does the research say?

What The Research Says…

If you read this blog often, you can predict what I’m about to say: we need a narrower question.

Surely the effects of peer feedback depend substantially on the peers, and the feedback.

Marquandt’s post does a great job exploring lots of specific research examples. For that reason, I encourage you to read it. You should be asking: which of the studies she describes best matches your students, and your methodology for fostering peer feedback.

To take a compelling example: one study found that students who gave feedback improved their own second drafts of an assignment more than those who received feedback.

Crucially, this finding held true for the students who “commented more on the strength of macro-meaning and the weakness of micro-meaning” of the drafts they reviewed.

To decide whether or not this study applies to you, you’ll need to know what “micro-meaning” and “macro-meaning” actually mean.

And, you’ll have to decide if research done with college physics students writing up lab reports might reasonably apply to your students.

In other words: this topic is a great example of a broader principle. When we look for research to guide our teaching, we should be sure that the people and the specific methods in the research helpfully match our teaching work and our teaching world.

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