In this post and a follow-up piece, I want to share with you a recent, positive experience that I had with peer coaching. I’ll start here in Part 1 with some reflections about the exchange of peer feedback in the courses I teach for new and pre-service librarians, and how that relates to guiding peer feedback for students at the K-12 level. Then in Part 2, I’ll circle back to peer sharing (and that coaching experience) in the adult, colleague-to-colleague space. I’ll talk about how peer feedback is a resource and strategy that I think we may be able to leverage further together as librarians and teachers.
PEER SHARING AS PART OF SCHOOL LIBRARY EDUCATION
Let’s look first at peer sharing with new and pre-service librarians. In my instruction of graduate students in library studies, I often point the students (or “candidates”) to the peer assessment element of self-assessment, as described in the Standards for the 21st Century Learner:
1.4.2 “Use interaction with and feedback from teachers and peers to guide own inquiry process.”
To model this orientation toward seeking and sharing feedback in the inquiry process, I facilitate peer sharing quite often in our courses. Peer feedback serves as a way to share works-in-progress for an invested audience. Thus, according to benchmarks throughout the process of various assignments, the graduate students share items that include drafts of papers, proposed topics of inquiry, or early versions of digital products. I typically give them “look-for’s” and questions to ask of their colleagues. Sometimes the feedback is open-ended, especially in a draft stage. Talk your colleagues through your storyboard, I might tell the digital storytelling students. “Tell about” your story, and see (for yourself) what parts are strong, and what needs more development. Ask what they think.
Other times we use a more structured feedback system, such as “two stars and a wish” or “warm and cool feedback.” (For more description of these strategies, see the Assessment for Learning site from Education Services Australia or the Peer Review Strategy Guide from Read Write Think.) I intentionally use templates and systems that can be applied to the K-12 setting, so that the school library candidates have experience with these tools and processes from the learner vantage point.
SHIFTING TO K-12 STUDENTS & PEER FEEDBACK
When the school library candidates write lesson and unit plans for my courses, we talk about how to scaffold their K-12 students’ peer sharing activities. Just like I try to do with them (the graduate students), they must aim to give their K-12 students help with the appropriate tools, readiness, and mindset for positive experiences with peer feedback.
Indeed– reviewing fellow students’ processes and products requires many skills and dispositions in any learning context, whether it’s the graduate level or school library setting, and whether the focus of the assessment is writing, citations, outlines, research questions, artwork, design ideas, or other work. Let’s look at that broad skill set next.
WHAT PEER ASSESSMENT REQUIRES
Peer assessment is part of self-assessment. As with self-assessment, peer review, coaching, and peer sharing involve honesty, recognition and acceptance of room for growth. It also includes developing an understanding that in a class of students or group of people, individuals are working in different paths and paces—and that that’s ok. This is important on so many levels– it might be a group of children working on diverse reading levels or with different language skills. In my graduate courses, sometimes the variation appears in the professional context that the students place their work– school library, public library, academic, and so on. In K-12 or higher education, the divergence might come in the form of varied work products to show learning, or perhaps different apps used to present information.
In order to execute a meaningful peer sharing and feedback exercise, students must know the task expectations, which a teacher or librarian can support with clear instructions and assessment tools, like graphic organizers or rubrics. In executing a more structured feedback process, students must identify levels of performance within a particular learning process or work product. Upon viewing or reading these levels within a partner’s work, they must be equipped to provide “substantive compliments” (perhaps including “I like this” but also saying why something works), as well as suggestions for pointing out ways to grow.
Making suggestions also involves skill in delivering information. Communication, both in active listening and careful explanation, is paramount. What we might term “kindergarten steps” – those basic but critical skills of taking turns, being kind, and asking for help when needed – are also key.
Moving outward from the students to the classroom context, the librarian or teacher must model the steps of this exchange, support successes and assist through difficulties, and set up a cycle of peer feedback from learning experience to learning experience. If peer sharing happens with a steady frequency, and not just once in a while, students can build trust in each other, and relax in what might be a scary process at first. They cultivate the feeling that peer sharing is worth the time, and even the potential discomfort or shyness that this kind of interaction might generate. And of course, their inquiry, writing, digital media, and other learning processes stand to benefit from the feedback gained and shared.
In Part 2 of this post, I’ll take this conversation about peer sharing back to the adult, colleague-to-colleague space, and talk about my recent experience with peer sharing as an educator.