Sunday 27 May 2018

Peers assess each other in teacher-student role reversal

Team work: Holly Cullen, Megan Wynne and Grace McAvinue, second-year pupils at Stratford College in Rathgar, where students learn by testing each other and marking each other's work.
Team work: Holly Cullen, Megan Wynne and Grace McAvinue, second-year pupils at Stratford College in Rathgar, where students learn by testing each other and marking each other's work.
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

At Stratford College in Dublin, pupils do not just have their work assessed by their teachers. They also assess each other in the classroom.

In the second-year history class at the school in Rathgar, Megan Wynne, Holly Cullen and Grace McAvinue are well used to checking each other's copy books.

When others in the class do a project or make a presentation, Megan and her friends might give them feedback on their work.

Students check over essays of other students, highlight the good points, and indicate where there is room for improvement.

Megan Wynne says she finds this approach useful. She says: "I get to see how other people interpreted a question. Sometimes their answer is completely different to mine. So, I get to see another side of the question."

But is it hard to perform a role, normally associated with the classroom teacher?

Megan says: "You have to be constructive in your criticism, and you don't want to be mean."

Increasingly in Irish classrooms, pupils are not just listening to a teacher talking. They are also learning by talking to each other about their work and giving their own assessment.

Patricia Gordon, principal of the Rathgar fee-paying school, says: "There is a whole movement in education where the emphasis is placed on social learning. Students learn well from their peers."

The approach is part of a whole suite of innovative teaching methods advocated by the State's curriculum planners known as Assessment for Learning.

The aim of this approach is to ensure that assessment actually helps learning and does not just measure it with grades.

Rather than just giving students marks for assignments and exam grades, teachers and pupils themselves give constant feedback. The aim of this is to help students to recognise what they must do to close any gaps in their knowledge or understanding.

In the history class at Stratford, the students recently did projects and presentations on the Plantations of Ireland.

After groups spoke about their projects, they were given feedback by their peers.

Teacher Venetia Kenny says: "The students would be given criteria to look at other people's work. They would look at how well-researched and well-balanced it was, and whether the information was easy to understand.

"It really engages the students. It's moving away from the idea of the teacher as the fount of all knowledge. The students are learning from each other."

Patricia Gordon says an important part of Assessment for Learning is that students display their work.

"Having an audience for your work promotes learning, and peers should be encouraged to look at it. It could be up on YouTube or on a website."

Using peer assessment, students at Stratford College do not actually grade each other or give each other a mark.

Instead, the students look at how their peers meet a set of criteria. This varies, according to the task.

In first year at Stratford College, students produced a digital newspaper. Students had to take on different roles in the newspaper, as writers or editors.

Patricia Gordon says: "Afterwards the students themselves would assess how they did their jobs. They would look at things like whether the group worked well together."

Usually these student assessments are included on task sheets. As well as assessing each other, the students try to assess themselves.

"Recently we have been doing story writing, and we would be looking at whether there was tension in the story. Often the students are checking if there is clarity, and whether the language is appropriate."

While they are carrying out the task, students are usually given an example of a successful piece of work to use as a yardstick.

Assessment for Learning, the approach now favoured by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), is based around the idea that students respond to constructive comments much more than to marks or grades.

All-inclusive school with proud Jewish tradition

Stratford College is a co-educational fee-paying school that was originally founded by Dublin's Jewish community.

The school is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

When it started, the school only admitted Jews, but it eventually opened its doors to those of all faiths and none.

Many of the Jewish community lived in the area, but their population has declined in recent years.

Principal Patricia Gordon says: "We are very proud of our history. We now have a diverse student population."

The school hopes to have courses in Jewish studies and coding as part of the new Junior Cycle curriculum.

The school received a favourable report from the Department of Education last year. The report said the overall quality of teaching and learning was very good, and some excellent practice was noted.

Irish Independent

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