Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Importance of Being (an) Earnest (Peer-Assessor) – Report on Galina Velichkova’s Session

Making an allusion to Oscar Wilde’s “The importance of Being Earnest”, Mrs Galina Velichkova stressed out the importance of the word “earnest” as the main point on the role of the teachers in the peer assessment sessions and what they might and should do to prepare and organize PA sessions, ensuring positive outcomes in terms of learning objectives.

                                                                                                  photo by Dimitra Christopoulou

Generally speaking, PA is hot water reinvented. Actually, it has been around for years and the first scholar to discuss its cognitive benefits and propose an application methodology was Prof. George Jardine. According to G. Jardine  “By participating in collaborative learning settings students develop interpersonal traits and skills “indispensable” at once to the cultivation of science and to the business of active life”. Later, in the US Jerome Burner with his article “The Uses of Immaturity”, cited case studies of peer – assisted learning and pointed out the tutored students exhibited “a considerable increase in scholastic performance”,  encouraging students to assume responsibility for the each other’s academic progress whereas teachers will also foster a notable increase in self – worth and group pride of the students. What is more, the Dutch scholars Jan Willem and Dominique draw the attention to the holistic approach to assessment, which is very fruitful for students who benefit from reflection and deliberation. Keith Topping, Nancy Falchikov also had a significant contribution to the study of peer assessment, according to Keith by taking up responsibilities which raise learners’ confidence and as for N. Falchikov by putting the accent on using criteria and applying standards as the key for developing the skill to give really constructive, justifiable feedback.

 Mrs Velichkova carried on by emphasizing the benefits of PA in the contemporary classroom. Trust, Responsibility, Instant abundant feedback, Benevolent atmosphere and Professional training – 360* Assessment are facts that should be taken into great consideration. By Trust among students and between students and teachers, judgements will be objective and helpful. By transferring the Responsibility for the outcome off the learning process is indeed quite significant. Furthermore, by Instant abundant feedback will be richer in opening the negotiation between teachers and students as well as an enthusiastic idealist of a teacher provides and relish the outcomes of a benevolent team atmosphere. 

Peer Assessment may cure some classroom ailments but it is not a panacea. Consequently, apart from promoting PA for meeting the needs of increasingly demanding audiences the role of the teacher is whether or not should he/she embrace the idea singleheartedly and become a peer rather than the only assessor. Moreover, in order to determine the scope and parameters of PA, there are three basic questions that should be paid attention to: Who to? What for? and How? Research has shown that students with higher level of competence have proved to produce feedback with higher level of reliability, especially in language classes. On the other hand, students at higher levels are not exactly incompetent in certain spheres compared to the average teacher, in fact they are exposed to an unprecedented flood of spoken and written messages, fighting for their attention and aiming to induce certain actions. Secondly, spoken production such as monologues, debate argument, presentations and pitches require skills that can hardly be measured using scales and bands designed to measure linguistic ability.

                                                                                                                  photo by Dimitra Christopoulou

So how can we determine the type of assessment? According to Mrs Velichkova the procedure itself is far from that of the standardized exams and it has some features of more than one type of assessment. She focused on the three basic ones which are the Formative, must be Criterion based and Diagnostic. 

Applying PA  as a way of optimizing the learning process has some benefits but there are also some risks that get involved. Reduced anxiety of the formal grading, multiple attempts (formative assessment) allowing gradual improvement benefit the whole classroom, whereas an adequate timetable is drawn from the start and strictly observed throughout and feedback is available to all students at all times and is easy to analyze can be the risks. As for the benefits for each individual student among many it gives the opportunity to witness real-life examples of both success and failure. And for those assessed are benefited from formative assessment that endures opportunities for multiple attempts. What are the benefits for the teacher? Actually, these are quite significant as it enables the teacher to use “exercise” for diagnosing learning gaps as well as problems with communication with or among students and conceive ways of solving them with view to what students need. It saves time and of course eliminates doubts concerning objectivity. 

Concluding, Mrs Galina Velichkova in her exceptional talk pointed out that Peer Assessment is a widely discussed, widely researched, a warmly recommended practice, yet, there is still the need of outlining the possible benefits of using it in the classroom as well as the risks involved. 

Report by Dimitra Christopoulou

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