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Issue and Consequences of Peer Feedback on Students Learning

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For the purposes of this essay we will assume the class is composed of Grade 9 History students working on a research essay focussed on sourcing and forming a historical narrative. There are two initial considerations to be made when addressing the scenario. First, the issue of peer feedback as cheating will be briefly analysed under the assumption that the teacher will have already explained the importance of citations and sourcing in a History classroom and the dangers of plagiarism. Secondly, and more importantly, we will consider the cognitive and academic consequences of peer feedback as a formative assessment tool and its benefits to student learning.

Literature shows that students are increasingly worried about plagiarism, forgoing cooperation and peer feedback to ensure they are not accused of cheating. This fear is not unfounded as students increasingly find themselves confused between ethical cooperation and unethical collusion when working together on individual projects, especially when they believe they are still genuinely engaging with the work by consulting with peers.

Two Primary Conceptual Frameworks: Behaviourism and Constructivism

Behaviourism purports that knowledge accumulates incrementally and learning should therefore assess whether each step has been achieved before proceeding. Behaviourist assessment is designed to be objective and impartial, and success is then a sign that learning has been achieved. A primary purpose of behaviourist assessment is to evaluate schools and make them accountable for learning which creates high stakes for students and encourages rote learning and ‘teaching to the test’ rather than encouraging application of learned skills. These tests are summative evaluations of the students progression against content-related curriculum requirements.

Constructivism has a more holistic, socially constructed view of learning understood as an “active process of mental construction and sense making” where expertise develops as a way of interpreting problems rather than just the accumulation of knowledge. The Australian curriculum is transitioning to more constructivist frameworks, though behaviourism endures as underlying assumptions about learning and the purpose of assessment. Constructivist theories of learning tend to inform formative assessment which is used to inform both teacher and learner about where the student is with their learning goals and how they can progress.

In the peer feedback example there is evidence of both summative and formative assessment, though I will primarily focus on a constructivist framework centered on the validity of peer feedback as formative assessment.

History classrooms assess two types of knowledge: declarative knowledge, what the Australian Curriculum terms Historical Knowledge and Understanding, and procedural knowledge, or Historical Skills. Historical Knowledge is commonly assessed summatively in essays and tests relating to key dates and influences while procedural knowledge is “assessed in the context of selected content,” and is generally harder to measure though considered especially significant to the goals of History.

Standards based assessment is designed to measure what students learn based on the content and curriculum goals of the learning period yet teachers also want to teach and assess process skills, such as collaboration and communication, and procedural knowledge such as Historical thinking. It becomes difficult for teachers to assign individual grades to students as the lines between cooperative learning, individual effort, procedural and declarative knowledge, and learning goals are blurred.

In the case of peer feedback, students aiding one another has potential to build both content knowledge and their ability to recognise and utilize historical thinking skills as they check for correct sourcing, evidence of historical perspectives, and interpretations of history. However, and most importantly, it can only be a truly beneficial exercise that builds procedural knowledge if the assessment itself is designed to encourage and assess it. The task itself must be designed with a solid, constructivist, procedural model of cognition in mind so that cooperation builds the relevant skills.

The Core Assessment Principles: Validity, Reliability, and Peer Feedback 

Validity is the extent to which the assessment aligns with the content and curriculum it is aimed to assess and the degree to which it tests what it claims to measure, known as its construct validity. Validity is based on whether the assessment is challenging and provides a realistic context. Both summative and formative assessment can be combined in a history classroom to measure content and procedural knowledge, though the intrinsic tension of assessment design is the balance between teaching for measurable results and teaching as an extension of learning. Peer Feedback provides assessment for learning in that they learn the process for a good summative grade while also practicing and refining the procedural skills which will improve learning in a low-stakes environment of constant comparison, reflection, and refinement. It allows students to receive summative feedback (eg. grades from their peers) in a multi-pronged, cyclical conversation that spurs further learning with the added benefit of having students deliver a higher grading essay.

A grade reflects an individual students achievement according to a predefined learning standard. According to Brookhart, If the grade is made to encompass a group it can lose accuracy in measuring achievement and have harmful consequences for students such as encouraging them to do less work in the future because they worked hard but their group got a low grade. Additionally, group grades focus on a finished, assessable product, depriving students of individual actionable feedback that will progress their learning trajectory. These issues add up to make group work seem unappealing, yet there is unquestionable value in teaching and learning 21st century skills and indeed many students display a desire to engage in group work or peer feedback cycles. The question, then, is how to make cooperative or group learning function in a way that progresses learning, allows individual assessment, and avoid the harmful psychological consequences that arise out of traditional group projects.

So there is a conclusion – a key factor on the issue of peer feedback: peer feedback cycles demonstrably offer a way to progress learning trajectories, fostering interdependence while maintaining individuality as students work collaboratively towards individually marked final products. Peer feedback allows students to uncover key misconceptions and compare, contrast, and present their work to one another in a way that progresses learning. The collaborative and cognitive skills they develop during two-way formative feedback are crucial to the History curriculum, specifically in learning how to utilize sources in an essay, construct a historical narrative, and present evidence ethically. 

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Issue and Consequences of Peer Feedback on Students Learning. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from
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