Jeff: Peer Feedback

Jeff Shriner is a Graduate Student at the University of Colorado

My original intention for this post was to reflect on this semester thus far, and identify what is working and what is not out of all of the new and old techniques that I am trying in my classroom. As I was brainstorming, however, one theme emerged as a potential source for improving all of my IBL efforts; that is, if I could improve in this one area, I believe it would have a positive ripple effect on everything in my ‘areas for improvement’ list. Therefore, I’ve decided to use this post to identify this key area for growth, explain why I think improvements in this one area would have a positive ripple effect on other areas in my classroom, and most importantly, solicit advice from all of the experts out there that have had success in this area.

I will describe the theme I’ve referenced above as

cultivating students who are eager to give/receive constructive feedback to/from their peers. 

Whether you prefer to teach with student presentations, group work, and/or think-pair-share type activities, the success of IBL methods hinges on the students’ engagement with one another. I view the theme I’ve identified above as specifying what we mean by ‘student engagement with one another’. We’re really asking our students to be good at and comfortable with giving feedback to one another, which is not an easy task!

I have tried to phrase the above theme as to include only the elements that I most desire currently for my classroom. I’ll break them into three parts:

  1. eager to give/receive… This is differentiating between students who talk, present, etc. because they have to (i.e., for a grade), and students who are driven by the process of inquiry (i.e., they need to ask, comment, etc. because understanding is truly important to them and/or they’re invested in the question being explored).
  2. …constructive feedback… Feedback should be respectful and relevant to the topic being explored. It should lead to growth for either the giver or receiver (or ideally, both!).
  3. to/from their peers. This interaction is best if it is owned by the students.  Asking questions without fear and offering an explanation with confidence are traits students are likely to take away from an effective IBL classroom.

I have been successful with some students on (1) and (2), but combining these with (3) consistently has proven to be a real challenge. I have students that are eager to interact on a regular basis and provide great feedback, but the interaction is most often initiated by me or directed at me. I understand that this needs to be part of the process (and that it is still preferred over no interaction), especially early in the semester, but I’d love to see more ownership from the students as the semester progresses (and I’ve heard some great success stories of this happening).

Making the process of giving and receiving feedback from peers in the classroom ‘business as usual’ drives all of the activities we hope will result in student learning. It also mimics the process we go through as mathematicians to solve problems and the process that will be invaluable to students in the job market after they earn their degree. But I’d like to acknowledge again that we are setting an extremely high bar for our students: to be vulnerable and to do things that do not come naturally for them. Students can be invested in the idea of IBL, but still struggle with the practice of IBL. So I am interested in thoughts on the following question:

How have people cultivated students that are eager to give/receive constructive feedback to/from their peers?

My experience so far has suggested that I need to do more than verbally set an expectation or model the process. This is sufficient for some students but doesn’t seem to be for most students. What have you done in your classrooms that has been successful in creating a classroom culture where giving feedback to one another is ‘business as usual’?

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