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The Mentor as Learner: Peer Assessment Teaches Students How to Think


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Voice of ExperienceEach week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in the Education World Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Brenda Dyck reflects on how her students have evaluated their own work and the work of others. "On several occasions I had to remind myself that I was having a serious discussion about assessment with a group of 13-year-olds!" she writes. Details about a deliberate, step-by-step effort to develop students' assessment abilities.

I believe there's value in students' not knowing what they don't know. When they are unaware of their limitations, they are more apt to attempt the impossible -- because it seems within their reach!

This week, I watched a group of students take on the role of peer evaluators as they applied a complicated rubric to four international technology projects from the Global Schoolhouse CyberFair competition. No one told them they might be in over their heads -- so they attacked this task with the finesse of seasoned teachers!

WHY PUT THEM THROUGH IT?

I had several objectives in mind when I volunteered my students as peer evaluators.

Over the past few years, in an effort to encourage my students to take ownership of their learning, I have provided several opportunities for them to chart their progress and evaluate their learning outcomes. My first attempts were as simple as having students keep track of "on-time" performance. They charted their ability to manage daily homework and hand in assignments on time. At the same time, they tracked the issues that interfered with their meeting deadlines. At report card time, students turned their data into a colorful graph that could be used to support discussions about any possible connection between incomplete assignments and report card marks. They discovered that the data told a story; it provided us with information we might use to plan improvement strategies.

More recently, my students have kept track of a series of fraction quizzes. I had them do this so I could see whether they had the ability to retain the slippery skills of adding and subtracting fractions and to show them how teachers use data to plan strategies for success. I purposely increased the length of time between quizzes so that we could determine whether learning lasted over an extended period of time. Realizing that, with guidance, students were quite capable of interpreting graphed outcomes turned out to be a defining moment for me. This revelation enabled me to take the next step in their learning process.

MOVING FROM SELF-ASSESSMENT TO PEER ASSESSMENT

When I heard that Global Schoolhouse was interested in using peer evaluators for the CyberFair 2002 competition, I jumped at the opportunity. I decided this would be a great place for my grade-seven students to familiarize themselves with the criteria on which quality online projects were judged and to hone their developing evaluation skills.

After registering my class as peer evaluators, we received a list of four projects. Two of the projects came from Canada, one came from the Philippines, and one was from students in Singapore. We spent several classes acquainting ourselves with the 11-page rubric; we discussed the evaluation categories and did a practice run on an unrelated online project. On evaluation day, I assigned a category to students and sent them off to begin their work.

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CAN THEY DO IT?

There was an air of seriousness as students applied the rubric criterion to each of the four projects. I could almost hear brain gears grinding as they tried to decide whether a 3 or a 4 should be assigned to a descriptor on the rubric. This dilemma opened up the opportunity to talk about what might constitute a 3 or a 4. On several occasions, I had to remind myself that I was having a discussion about assessment (using the language of assessment) with a group of 13-year-olds!

It was interesting to watch a group of experts emerge from this motley crew of evaluators. It was easy to identify the writing wizards by their natural affinity for editing the content for grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. Artistic students naturally pointed out such visual weaknesses as color choice or lack of balance. Technology experts addressed overuse of Flash, slow-loading pages, and the html problems that only they understood.

My newfound respect for my students' abilities to assess was not, however, shared by the students themselves. During our debriefing activity, several expressed discomfort with the perceived "power" they felt when marking a project into which someone had obviously put so much effort. I guess it's not easy to make the transition from student to evaluator in the space of one day!

Article by Brenda Dyck
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Copyright © 2006 Education World

05/10/2002
Updated 02/27/2006