3. Using peer assessment
You will probably have found that it is difficult, at times, to mark pupils’ written work, because there are so many language errors in it. You do not want to discourage your pupils by making too many corrections. But you also don’t want them to get into bad habits. How can we solve this problem?
One way is to connect meaning with language structures. Set a writing task that has meaning for the pupils. Encourage them to edit their work before they hand it in. You could ask them to write in pairs so that they support each other. They can then receive their work back without having lots of marks on it.
When you do mark their work, focus on meaning and interest. As a secondary focus, concentrate on one aspect of language structure – spelling or perhaps verb tenses or prepositions. In this way, the feedback is limited and focused, and the pupils are more likely to take notice of it.
Case Study 3: Sharing experiences in a ‘Writers’ Circle’
A group of teachers on an in-service course in Kampala were trying to improve their own writing. Tutors encouraged them to form ‘Writers’ Circles’, where they read one another’s writing and gave feedback. They wrote about their own experiences – early childhood memories, memorable characters and places, unforgettable experiences.
Tutors guided them in giving feedback, using different criteria depending on what had been written. Here are examples:
- Does the writer make it clear what they are saying? Are there parts that need to be clarified?
- Which parts are interesting? What makes them interesting? Which parts are dull? How could these be improved?
- Does each paragraph have a main idea? Do some need to be more fully developed? Do paragraphs need to be reordered?
- Are sentences complete? Are they too long or too short? Are they correctly punctuated? Are words spelled correctly?
- In what tense is the piece written? Check that every verb is in the relevant tense or that there is a good reason for using another tense.
A book was compiled of the writing of these teachers that was shared with family and friends. The teachers decided that some of these ideas could be used in class, adapted for the age and ability of their pupils.
Key Activity: Self and peer editing to improve writing
Ask your pupils to write something based on their own experiences. Discuss ideas to stimulate their imaginations. For example, they could describe something they own or an interesting person they know. (As these pieces are descriptive they would probably use the present tense.) They could tell the story of a frightening or exciting experience, or a community event. (As these pieces are stories or narratives, they would probably use the past tense.) Some pupils may find it more helpful to work in pairs.
Next, ask them to work in small groups, to read their pieces to one another. Ask them to use one or both of the following sets of questions to provide feedback to each other:
- Which parts are interesting?
- What makes them interesting?
- Which parts are dull?
- How could these be improved?
- In what tense is the piece written?
Check that every verb is in the relevant tense or make sure there is a good reason for using another tense.
Having received group feedback, each rewrites their piece. Take the pieces in, and use the same criteria to mark them.
How successful was this approach? Will you repeat it?
Did the quality of pupils’ writing improve? How do you know this?