Peer or Self-Assessment? Benefits and Challenges

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)
Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Supplementary article to read (highly recommended): Effective Feedback – The Catalyst of Student Progress

There’s no doubt about it – getting students involved in their own assessment and marking has a wide-variety of benefits.

walking around wt laptop

Take this great summary by Rosario Hernandez at University College Dublin for example, which explains that peer-assessment benefits students in four key ways:

  • Promotes high quality learning
  • Contributes to skills development
  • Furthers personal development
  • Increases students’ confidence, reduces stress and improves student motivation

That’s quite a convincing list!

Peer assessment

Not surprisingly, similar things can be said of self-assessment. This great overview by the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:

  • It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class tasks a little uncomfortable
  • When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process

self-assessment

Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my personal experience that both self and peer-assessment are absolutely invaluable to the modern practitioner. They save you oodles of time as a teacher and students learn so much from each process.

But how should we use self and peer-assessment?

There are a number of different ways that self and peer-assessment can be used in the classroom. My experience has taught me (the hard way!) that the following tasks work really well:

  • Making corrections to tests and assessments: When any important test or assessment comes up, I don’t think it is appropriate to have students marking these themselves. They’ll get it wrong, even with a mark scheme to use, and will be overly generous on themselves and their peers (unless they’ve been trained for a period of time – more on that next). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with the a printed or online mark scheme. The students could then use a coloured pen to make full and detailed corrections to their test papers. You could turn this into an AfL exercise, with students writing down the question numbers they got wrong on the whiteboard, or on an anonymous piece of paper. You could then go through these questions afterwards to clear up common misconceptions. If you run a regular learning journals system (as I currently do), then students could write down the questions and the model answers in their learning journals. This causes very deep-learning to take place and is great for building long-term memory!
  • Assessing homework, classwork and regular assignments: A great time-saver for teachers. Just make sure the kids have access to the model answers. Don’t forget to collect the work in too – you need to know that the kids actually did the work you asked them to do.
  • Past-papers: Exam-level students really need to become familiar with the official mark schemes provided by exam boards. They need to become comfortable with key vocabulary, language and command terms. Provide exam-level students with regular past-papers to do as homework. Provide mark schemes too, so that they can self and peer-assess their work in class later. For older students (e.g. ‘AS’ – Level, SAT and IBDP learners) I’ll sometimes give them past papers and mark schemes to take home. Their task is to complete the past-papers under timed conditions and mark them using the mark schemes. The student then hands me the papers completed and marked (this is essential – I need to know that they have completed the assignment). I then check the papers for common misconceptions and target those in class. 
  • Technological means: There a number of ways in which technology can assist in the peer and self-assessment process. Google forms are great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g. BBC Bitesize and MyiMaths) and online quizzes that teachers can build by themselves (e.g. Quizlets). Make use of these and others (e.g. Kahoot – great for getting kids to use their mobile devices), as they are really interactive and can offer a nice break from traditional methods. 

Art class

Training students to assess themselves

with-ukedchat
“An AMAZING book!”

This is a gradual process and basically involves exposing students to exam-style questions and past-papers; along with their mark schemes, over a prolonged period of time. The process is straightforward but can be monotonous: provide past-papers as homework, classwork, projects and even through a special past-paper ECA club (which I’m currently doing with my IGCSE and IBDP students – it’s very effective). 

There are a number of creative ways to train students up in proper exam-technique:

  • Cut up the questions and answers to past-papers and hand them to students one-at-a-time. They can only come and get the next question when they’ve effectively answered and marked the previous one.
  • Give students the answers to questions and get them to write the questions! Use the same method as the previous bullet-point above, or set up a large display and get students to put their answers on post-it notes which they can stick to the display.
  • Get a big container filled with cut-up exam questions. Students have to pick out questions from the container in pairs or threes, and work on them. No two groups should have the same question. 
  • Students can make revision videos, websites and even stop-motion animations that contain exam-style questions and answers. Get students to record the process through a learning journal system. 

sitting on the carpet

Challenges when using self and peer-assessment

There are a few challenges, but these are greatly outweighed by the the benefits. I’ll offer some notes from my own personal experience and some solutions.

  1. Some students won’t want to swap during peer-assessment. This can be an issue in some classes. Some students can find themselves isolated and excluded by social groups, and may not be able to find someone to wants to swap their work with them. Whilst this kind of social exclusion is totally unacceptable, and must be dealt with through the appropriate school channels, there is a way to mitigate it in the first instance: collect in every piece of work and hand them out again randomly to different students. That way, they should all have someone else’s work to mark. 
  2. Different ability levels: There will be some students in the class who have such a limited knowledge of the subject that they won’t be able to effectively mark the work in front of them, even if they have access to the mark scheme. You could offer a ‘clinic-style’ system, where you sit at a special desk in the room and offer ‘consultation’: where students walk to see you to clear up misconceptions if they don’t understand the work or the mark scheme. You can also walk around the classroom and sit with individuals to have one-to-one discussions.
  3. Students being too generous: This is a common problem, especially for exam-level students who are new to past-papers and the peer/self-assessment process. At first, you might want to project the answers on the whiteboard and go through each question one at a time, but you’ll find that this takes ages (unless it’s an MCQ test) as students will have lots of questions to ask along the way, and you’ll have to answer verbally to the whole audience (which isn’t ideal in every case). Even better – you could collect in the assignments afterwards and double-check them. Speak to students who have lost marks after you’ve double-checked the papers and really make sure they understand the mark scheme and where they went wrong.
  4. Poor handwriting: This can be an issue for some students. It’s really important that examiners can actually read a student’s work. Students with poor handwriting need to be identified quickly and intervention measures put in place (e.g. special classes). You don’t want anyone to lose marks just because the examiner couldn’t read what the student wrote!

card games

Conclusion

The benefits of peer and self-assessment are numerous and incontrovertible. However, students must have access to official mark schemes and model answers for the process to work properly, and they must be involved in actually correcting their work (not just ‘ticking’ and ‘crossing’ and working out a score/percentage).

Students need to be trained in proper peer-assessment. Do not tolerate over-generosity: collect the work in afterwards and double-check that it was marked properly. 

Watch out for common misconceptions – these crop up a lot in a peer-assessment. See this as a good thing: you can use this information to inform your teaching. 

Use a wide-variety of technological means in the peer and self-assessment process. This will keep students on task and provide exposure to vital Information and Communication Technology: building skills that will be essential in the future.

Be on the lookout for students who refuse to swap their work (or accept another student’s work to mark) and address this issue promptly. No student should feel excluded by a peer group at school – this is tantamount to bullying and must be addressed appropriately.

Be aware that some students will not have the ability to peer and self-assess effectively, even when they have access to the model answers. Provide one-to-one assistance in these cases, either by walking around the room and helping out or having students walk to you for help. 

Recommended further reading

Click on the images to go to the Amazon page for the book. 

  • Peer Feedback in the Classroom by  Starr Sackstein. Great for gaining a deep understanding of what meaningful feedback looks like. Highly recommended!

peer feedback in classroom sackstein

  • The Perfect Assessment System by Rick Stiggins. Great for all educators and those involved in education management. Really puts assessment into a whole-school context and is a great read for anyone who wants to up their game and empower their students through effective feedback. 

Perfect assessment system.jpg

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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