Peer Assessment for Grown-Ups

I could pretend that I have been troubled for some time about the value of peer-assessment. I could lead you to believe that I have arrived at this new knowledge after weeks of planning and experimentation. In truth, I did what I did by accident. I invented ‘peer review’ for school.

Apologies to those who may feel they got there before me. I am not an expert, in the sense that I have not read every pamphlet, blog and counter-argument on AfL. I just do a lot of marking, and occasionally I remember that some peer assessment would not go amiss. I have been a non-expert for a long time.

I came to peer review by accident, because I happened to write those 2 (TWO) words in my planner for this afternoon’s A2 Politics lesson, when I had probably intended ‘peer assessment’. I knew I wanted my 6 students to read each other’s homework essays, and I knew I would get them to set each other short improvement tasks to complete in the lesson. I know my nuts; I can do stuff like this. But I wrote ‘peer review’ in my planner. When I opened it at the start of lesson 5 this afternoon… what had I meant? I decided to go with it.

In the previous lesson, the group had done some research and some planning for the essay: How effective is the international community at upholding international law? Answer with reference to the ICJ, ICC and international criminal tribunals. (This is the esoteric stuff we do in the Global Politics unit, but I don’t suppose the question matters much here.) That was Tuesday. They agreed to write the essay for today. I arrive, open my planner and ask, Does everyone know what is meant by ‘peer review’? They all thought they did. (They had all made the same mistake as I had.) So I clarified, with reference to peer review science journals. I have a couple of Philosophy and Ethics students, and they seemed to catch on the quickest. I threw this up on the screen, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence to the producers of the work (peers). It constitutes a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Peer review methods are employed to maintain standards of quality, improve performance, and provide credibility. In academia peer review is often used to determine an academic paper‘s suitability for publication.

They saw immediately the relevance to them. Our next step was to agree what we called ‘areas for validation’. In truth, these were close to the original success criteria, but they included balance, appropriate referencing, factual accuracy, inclusion of political theory. They agreed it would not include an evaluation of the author’s argument, except to insist that there be one, and that it be valid. They then paired up to peer review each other’s work, knowing also that they had to set a task at the end, which would improve the essay’s ‘suitability for publication’. This took 15 minutes. They then agreed that it would be better still if there were a second reviewer, to endorse or amend the comments of the first. This still left 15 minutes at the end of the lesson for them all to complete the improvement task and hand their essays in. I have not marked them yet (as I said, I’m not that good), but a quick glance reveals these examples of improvement tasks: Rewrite your conclusion. Be more explicit on the views of political theorists. Introduce your arguments in the introduction: this will enable a brief description of the ICJ and ICC. I think their peer comments were deeper, and I think this was because they felt they were doing something more meaningful than merely assessing each other.

So now that I have invented peer review for school, I expect inclusion in many a peer reviewed paper from now on.