Proper Peer Assessment

The first time I did peer assessment, it was a total bust.

I printed out some exam questions, blew them up to A3 size and handed them out. The class were asked to answer then pass the questions back. Then they had to improve on their classmate’s first attempt.

A sizeable minority decided that was not for them and there could be no consequences if they misbehaved as their name was not on the sheet. They just homophobically abused one-another over the medium I provided.It was a horrible feeling. Why not just give them past papers to do in silence? Why not just give them a text book to copy out into their note books? In silence. It put me off trying something new with a bit of a risk. 

If I ran that activity today, I would make them write their name next to the answer. I would also pull out my mobile phone and ring parents on the spot if anything even slightly abusive happened. I have done it since, admittedly with classes that I trust to be sensible. Classes that I think would abuse trust get much more limited opportunities to misbehave. I don’t like that it means they have a more passive experience but I would hate to be in a class where a minority stop everyone from learning at all. Better a bit too passive than chaotic and out of control.

These days, I have come a long way in terms of both being able to anticipate (and react to),  the unintended but also in terms of the technology I can use.

My mixed class of students (11-13) were given a written assignment. Traditionally, this would mean that I get a project from each student or groups of students and I have to give my wise and measured opinion. 

I thought I would mix it up a bit. First, to get them used to collaborating, their homework was to give constructive feedback to each other on their work. Then we are going to invite a class from another country to take a look at the work. 

As collaboration and commenting is the main point of the activity, I decided to use wikispaces. I don’t want to sound negative and down on wikispaces. Their website is very good and their tools are excellent. But. We do not have computers in my classroom, we have iPads. And the wikispaces iPad access is not very good.

The cursor is obscured by the toolbar, the cursor becomes unresponsive, it is hard to add new pages, you can only upload pictures and the tutorials on the site are all text-based. 

To get access to the cursor, you have to switch from or to Visual/Text editor. This is really annoying after the first few times. To work around the toolbar being in the wrong place, I get them to write in another editor and paste in. Pasting in is really annoying because even if you put your finger on the screen for the right number of seconds, it’s not certain that the little paste button will show up. I still cannot work how to add new pages without resorting to my laptop. I upload their pdfs on my laptop and teach them how to make hyperlinks. I do my best with my own tutorials but the interface is annoying and it’s not like you can do screen capture on an iPad.

What they really need is a native app or a completely stripped down interface that cannot bork. 

It really sounds like I don’t like Wikispaces… I do! I do like them. It’s just that writing non-fiction for an audience is complicated enough without not being able to access your cursor or see where the text will be inputted. 

Anyway, they battled on through and made some great content. 

Their homework to comment on each other’s work made me feel all warm and fuzzy. They are making exactly the sort of comments that I would have made “You need more scientific language. You need to explain how something happens. I like the introduction and I think a picture would make things easier to understand”. It’s very nice to see it’s not all in one ear and out the other.

I will update on how it goes when they make contact with the other school.


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