Too often, when students produce school work, they turn it into a teacher for a grade and move on. And after the teacher spends time evaluating the student’s work, many students never look at the feedback, a cycle that frustrates both parties and isn’t the most effective way to learn.

Several schools are trying a different model — one that takes more time but also helps students feel more ownership over the quality of their work. Called peer critique, students follow clear protocols that remind them to “be kind, be specific, and be helpful” in the feedback they give to peers.

In the Edutopia video shown below about Two Rivers Charter School in Washington, D.C., students explain how through a process of revisions, they can feel proud about gradually producing high quality work. And, since students start doing the peer critique protocol in preschool, the school has built up a culture infused with a growth mindset. Students are constantly experiencing that they can learn from other people’s work and that work can always be better.

“You’re basically changing the idea of what it means to ‘be done,’ ” said Jessica Wodatch, executive director of Two Rivers Charter School.

Teachers at the school engage in the same kind of critique with their colleagues that they expect students to do in the classroom.  A group of teachers focuses on student work as a way to determine how well students are grasping the material and where instruction could go next.

The culture of the staff is one that values feedback and continual improvement, and the protocols that guide meetings help ensure that the time is used usefully and that the instructional feedback is not judgmental.

Often times teachers and parents underestimate the capacity young children have to absorb and use constructive critique. This helpful video from EL Education shows how careful questioning, ground rules and a culture focused on improvement can help students to create beautiful work, often surpassing what adults may expect.

Austin's Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work from EL Education on Vimeo.

How Students Critiquing One Another’s Work Raises The Quality Bar 12 April,2017MindShift

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  • Hillary Clintub

    There’s a fine line between critiquing and criticizing. Even lots of adults don’t know the difference.

    • April Mixon

      There’s actually nothing wrong with criticism. If it’s constructive.

      • Hillary Clintub

        Yep. That’s called critiquing.

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  • Brian Kissman

    This is excellent. It is an approach that guides students and teachers to learn from one another in a constructivist, yet structured approach the is both explicit and intentional. We have had tremendous success with this approach, including guiding students to become skilled conversationalists – coaching them with explicit traits of conversation to build, shape, and grow understanding as effective communicators. Brian Kissman, Head of School, Kalamazoo Country Day School

  • Jonathan Herr

    I appreciate this approach and like tying in the concept of continuous improvement and giving the students more ownership over and participation in the process. How do you avoid the potential pitfall of mean-spirited criticism between students that intend to hurt one another?

    • April Mixon

      Johnathan

      I created a primer of examples and expectations. I have the critiques either done when I am around or online so I can delete. I teach 15-70 year olds. They actually tend to err more on the side of being kind and unhelpful rather than being mean. It’s actually hard for them to criticize. Even constructively! I think you might be surprised.

      I start by putting them in small groups and having them critique one another collectively. And I monitor this. There is safety in numbers and if someone gets out of line you have more people around to soften the blow. After that I might move them to one on one communication. But it is always monitored.

      In my three years of doing this every term of the year I can’t say that I have ever had a problem. I hope you will consider it!

  • George Napier

    This is an excellent idea. Peer critique could be an excellent tool in my classroom but I worry about it being abused. I teach adults and have had quite a few sarcastic jabs thrown in my classroom by students with gripes or agendas. Still, I think it could be an effective tool if used properly. Thank you,
    George

    • April Mixon

      Hi George

      I teach college freshman and I use this often. It takes a bit of wrangling in the beginning. But writing a good primer, and being diligent and looking over the reviews and guiding them helps. I start by placing them in small groups first. And they peer review. This gives a community sense and I monitor and participate also. If someone is a “problem” there is safety in numbers. It’s also online, so I can delete it if it goes awry. In my three years of doing this I haven’t had any problems. They seem to err more on the side of not wanting to be mean and unsure of how to help than being hurtful or cruel. I teach 15-70 year olds. So it runs the gamut. And some of the most thoughtful and helpful posts have come from some of my youngest students. It gives me hope for the future. I hope you will try!

  • utdiscant

    I am one of the people behind Peergrade (www.peergrade.io), a free tool for teachers that makes it easy to facilitate peer critique in classrooms of any size. Go take a look 🙂

  • Rachna

    What a wonderful teaching tool. As a former educational aide and now student teacher, I am always looking for tools to become a better a teacher. This is an excellent way to building confidence within students and prepare them to receive constructive criticism, a life skill. However, I believe this method requires an environment of trust within the classroom, which may require some time to develop. In any case, I will definitely try to implement this method with my future students.

  • AJ Riley

    Great article!!!! In adult education we are tasked with discussions in which we ask questions and interact with classmates but honestly i had never thought of it with children. Recently, the local elementary schools here are starting peer mentoring programs. My daughter is helping other students in her class with their work. I think this is a great teaching tool!!!

  • I work at an EL school and students are always at the center of their work. I use peer editing stations as a way for them to engage with many styles of writing.

  • L. Piper

    I appreciate the use of constructive criticism in the classroom from one’s peers because sometimes, especially in a high school mathematics class, a peer is better able to break down the information as well as come up with effective strategies to help understand the information that may be more in line with the student culture at the time.

    I do more of a fast-paced, spur-of-the-moment critique in my class and not as structured as was seen in the video because in math, we are executing several problems so we don’t have that time to spend a few class periods just working through one problem. The way that I structure my class is that I call students to the board randomly to work problems and they will work it and I will ask their classmates if they agree. If we all agree, we move on to the next topic, however, if there are any discrepancies, we talk about it right then and there as a whole class. This process is more student-led because I completely agree that students can learn from each other. If a student gets a problem wrong on the board, other students in the class will either ask them questions about things to look at or specifically direct them to a line of work.

    One thing that any leader has to watch in this instance, as stated in the first comment is that “fine line between critiquing and criticizing”. As a high school teacher, I am very cognizant of the drama that happens between students and how it can make it into the classroom. I have to be very aware of what is being said and how it is being said and correct any inappropriate comments right then and there so as not to establish a precedence for it.

    After reading through this article and watching the videos, I feel that I can do more with encouraging peer review in my classroom. Since I already have a routine established this year, I would work it into my curriculum for next year. I feel that this would be a way to keep students engaged during class and it would give them an opportunity to observe other ways to work problems, especially in my honors level classes.

  • B.A. Ryan Gartin

    This is something that has been in the fine arts curriculum for many decades.
    Reiforcing the reason the arts are important to the entire education experience.

    • kryten8

      Agreed. Also a part of most ELA classes for the past 30 years, but now a charter school is doing it so NPR will cover it.

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