Discover how you can use self and peer assessment to actively involve students in their learning, including teaching tips and examples to use in your classroom

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Self and peer assessment gives students a structure to reflect on their work, what they have learned and how to improve.

What is self and peer assessment?

Self-assessment enables students to take ownership of their learning by judging the extent of their knowledge and understanding. It provides a structure for them to reflect on their work, what they have learned and how to improve.

Peer-assessment, where they act as critical friends and support each other, can help students to develop self-assessment skills.

In order to make any judgements, students must have grasped the learning and the standards of work expected of them.

Why use these techniques?

Through self and peer assessment, students take more responsibility for their own learning. It helps the individual to:

  • assess their own progress objectively
  • crystallise learning objectives
  • recognise their understanding
  • think about what they did not understand
  • grow in confidence
  • take their own learning forwards.

Within the class, it fosters respect and collaboration.

Peer criticism can be more effective than that from the teacher because:

  • The normal shared language will be used.
  • It acts as a stimulus to complete work and to raise standards.
  • Some students are more receptive to comments from their peers.
  • Group feedback can command more attention than that of an individual.

It frees up the teacher to concentrate on what is not known, rather than what is.

How do I set up self or peer assessment?

When preparing for an activity involving self or peer assessment, it is vital to:

  1. Create an atmosphere of mutual trust.
  2. Decide how the students will discover the learning objectives. Criteria for success must be transparent.
  3. Select a technique suitable to the topic (see ’Example activities’ below for some ideas). Give explicit instructions.
  4. Encourage students to listen to others, to ask questions on points that they do not understand and to contribute ideas and opinions (see ’Discussion and feedback’ below).

Example activities

Examples of what the students might do include:

  • Research and present within a small group, which then judges each talk.
  • Make a judgement about an answer and suggest improvements.
  • Use the criteria to give feedback about their peer’s work.
  • Research answers in order to give feedback about their peer’s work.
  • Comment on anonymous work.
  • Indicate how confident they are about a topic or task (both before and after an activity).
  • Write questions to match a learning outcome and then answer questions written by others.
  • In groups, generate questions for homework, then select the best through class discussion.
  • Analyse a marking scheme and apply it to their own or others’ work.
  • Develop the learning outcomes for a given area of work for themselves.

Discussion and feedback

  • Have a strategy to tackle the weaknesses that are identified. For example, if it is a small number of students, draw them together for further work whilst giving the rest of the class an extension activity.
  • Allow plenty of time for students to take action following feedback from peers or you. This may be repeating an experiment, carrying out further research or rewriting their notes. You may have to provide input for this.
  • Use plenaries and feedback, to pause and take stock, during and towards the end of the session.
  • Check that, if needed, students have made correct records.

Hints and tips for promoting effective self and peer assessment

Alternative plenary

In this variation, a small group of students leads the discussion, instead of the teacher. When preparing and running the activity, it is important to:

  • Let students know that they will sometimes lead a plenary themselves.
  • Set a good example in teacher-led plenaries:
    • Remind the class of the learning objectives.
    • Use judicious questions to review the learning achieved.
    • Summarise as a basis for working out the next steps.
  • Ensure that the class agrees with any summary (may be by group discussion).
  • Ensure that there is opportunity for students to make additional points.
  • Give supportive, tactful feedback to the leaders.

‘Traffic lights’ or ‘Thumbs up’

Using this technique, students show an instant evaluation of their knowledge and understanding. From this, both teacher and student can recognise problems.

  • thumbs up – confident
  • thumbs sideways – some uncertainty
  • thumbs down – little confidence.

Using green, amber and red ‘traffic light’ cards, instead of thumbs, makes students give a definite response and provides the teacher with a good visual indicator. These cards can also be used for students to show their choice between alternatives, for example, ‘Do you think the answer is 1, 2 or 3?’

Cards or thumbs can be used at any time during a session.

Prompt questions

You can use questions to help students move forward.

Appropriate questions would be based on:

  • What do you think you could improve?
  • Why do you want to improve that?
  • What was the hardest part?
  • What help do you need?

Learning diary

To ensure that the self or peer assessment activity is meaningful, and not a bureaucratic exercise, it can be helpful to make recording an integral part of activities. The diary could be linked to plenaries and written in class notes. Headings or questions might include:

  • What was exciting in chemistry this week.
  • The most important thing I learned this week.
  • What I did well. What I need to do more work on.
  • Which targets I’ve met.

The questions do not need to be the same each week.

Is there anything else teachers should think about?

When preparing and running a self or peer assessment activity, consider:

  • Introducing the technique gradually so that skills are developed.
  • Different methods for introducing students to the learning objectives/outcomes.
  • Setting up a supportive atmosphere, so that students are comfortable about admitting to problems.
  • Giving students sufficient time to work out the problems.
  • Making the encouragement of self-reflection intrinsic to teaching.

Common issues to watch out for

  • It takes time, patience and commitment to develop self and peer assessment. For preference, there should be a strong learning culture and an environment of mutual trust throughout the school.
  • Students will need group skills.
  • There must be an opportunity for the expected learning and standards to be made clear.
  • Teachers need to listen unobtrusively to avert the propagation of misunderstandings (careful group selection also helps).
  • A few students will only respond to work in class as exercises to be completed and not internalised.

How can I tell if self or peer assessment is successful?

When you devise your checklist to evaluate the session, consider how you will measure:

  • How well the students understood the objectives.
  • Whether the student groupings worked as you wished.
  • If the students improved their self-assessment skills.
  • How meaningful the peer assessment was.
  • The students’ response to the technique.
  • The support for different abilities.
  • Whether the lesson correlated with the objectives.
  • Improvement in work standards.

Principles of assessment for learning