As mentioned in an earlier post, I was fortunate enough to attend IATEFL 2014 recently. I tried to go to sessions related to academic writing as this is my main teaching focus at the moment. This included sessions on feedback on writing, in particular, the ‘forum on feedback’ with 3 presentations on feedback for written work.
The second spot in the forum was taken by Jane Mandalios who talked about peer oral feedback on student writing. This in itself is nothing new but the approach Mandalios takes is very lengthy and involved. 4 students worked in 2 pairs, using 2 copies of essays. Students A and B read the essays of students C and D and vice versa. They discussed the 2 essays together and then gave feedback in their groups of 4. That way, every student received feedback from 2 other students. This process actually took about an hour, so it needs to be properly planned and delivered.
Mandolis showed us a video of this in practice which revealed students being communicative, animated and highly engaged in the activity. She reported that the benefits were that students enjoyed the pair work and team work, that they liked reading other students’ work, and that they valued non-judgemental feedback. One disadvantage, however, was that they didn’t like giving negative feedback.In the past when I have used peer feedback, I have noticed that stronger students can give effective feedback but that weaker ones sometimes struggle. An advantage of this 4 student approach is that it is never the responsibility of one student for another student’s feedback; rather it is co-constructed, which should improve the quality of the feedback and reduce the burden on individual students.
Following nicely on from this, Blerta Mustafa talked about ‘Peer Feedback: from friend to foe’. She started by outlining the problems of peer feedback, for examples that students tend to focus on the micro level without seeing texts as a whole and that there was a lack of trust in peer feedback: students were sceptical, they disliked it at first or thought it was pointless. In my own experience I have seen that students are often reluctant to be critical as they don’t want to cause offence, which can result in lots of vague positive comments that are no use to anyone.
Mustafa argued that students need to be trained in how to give peer feedback. In her own research she found that initially, students had negative perceptions of it and could not deliver useful feedback. However, in time, her students came to like the process more, they were able to give more effective feedback to their peers, and they became more accepting of criticism from others. It seems then that peer feedback should be viewed not only as an activity to do in class, but also a skill to learn and that this needs considered planning over a course.