I wrote this post back in May 2010, with the intention of taking some photos of the resulting S2 work and posting it as a blog post. Well, I never got round to it, and the photos are lurking somewhere on my hard drive, but I thought I might as well post it anyway:
“Earth and Space” Peer Assessment Project
I have been teaching two S2 classes for almost a year now. They have completed end of topic tests for each unit of work, and the grades for their reports were calculated based on their test results. Both classes have recently completed the “Earth and Space” unit, which is usually a favourite, both with pupils and teachers. I didn’t want to end the unit with a test, the result of which wouldn’t count for anything – their reports have been issued and their choices for next year made – so I decided to give them the chance to produce a project for peer assessment.
I put together a simple sheet of information, consisting of basic rules for the project and a checklist of information that should be included. I also clearly set out how it would be graded, with a grade 1 going to projects that covered all the topics on the checklist, were “very interesting and clear” and taught the reader something new (the latter was a suggestion from a pupil). Even though the focus in Assessment is for Learning is on comment-only marking, I felt that for an end of unit assessment the pupils would feel cheated if they didn’t get a grade in addition to comments, as that is what they had been used to.
One of the interesting aspects to this activity was watching the different ways in which pupils applied themselves to it. Most groups opted to make a booklet or poster, but one or two made computer presentations of various kinds. I had given them two periods in class, plus whatever they wanted to do outside of class. Two periods was enough to cover everything on the checklist, and some groups did complete the project in class time, but most opted to do much more in their own time. The groups who opted to use computers used class time for planning and research, but made their presentations entirely in their own time, as I had ruled that it wasn’t fair to allow one group to use the only computer in my classroom.
The two classes approached the task in broadly different ways, too: one class seemed to focus much more on achieving the points on the checklist, and only spent time making their projects look pretty if they had the time. On the whole, they got higher grades (mostly 1s and 2s) in the final peer assessment stage. The other class seemed to be more interested in creating huge artistic pieces of work, which contained lots of information (but not always meeting the criteria on the checklist!). They achieved grades 2 and 3 in the peer assessment stage – but I wanted to acknowledge the huge amount of effort and teamwork some of them had put in, so I wrote out Positive Referrals for effort to go home.
The main problems that occurred related to the group work aspect. Even though the groups were self-selected, one group imploded spectacularly, with one pupil opting to sit the end-of-topic test instead, one coming up with a project single-handedly, and the third group member refusing to do anything at all. One or two people opted to work alone after the initial planning lesson, leaving the rest of their groups to catch up without them. One group ended up (somehow) with four members, when I’d stipulated that the limit was three. And various groups ran into problems with members being absent.
Despite the fact that there are usually a few people in these classes who hand in work late, every group had completed their project on time (although I gave an extension to one group who had been missing a member due to illness).
The peer assessment
I’d come up with a couple of simple forms for the self and peer assessment part of the project. We devoted an entire period to the assessment. First of all, I got each group to fill in a form to estimate what percentage of the work each member had done (I had told them about this right at the start, so they knew it was coming). Most groups had worked very equitably, but a few had one or two people who did much more of the work than others. Each member of the group had to agree the final percentages, which they did surprisingly easily, with no squabbling.
The main assessment involved taking another group’s project and filling in a form to assess: how many points on the checklist had been included, how clear and interesting the project was, and whether it taught the observer something new. Groups also gave a traffic light colour to the project they were assessing, as well as “two stars and a wish” and a final grade.
When the projects were handed back to their creators there was, understandably, some quibbling over grades, and I was called in to adjudicate a couple of times. Assessors were quite firm about their grades, and the usual complaint was that they were being too harsh! The main mistake groups made was not including all the knowledge and understanding required by the checklist.
At the very end of the process, I asked each group to write on the back of their assessment sheet one thing they liked about the project, and one thing they didn’t like.
Good points included:
- It was much more fun (than a test)*
- I liked doing the project because it helped me to learn whilst doing it.
- I liked this activity because we could be social and choose whatever (format) we wanted.*
- I liked this activity because it was hands-on.
- I liked working in a team*
- I liked how it was fun and told you exactly what you needed to know about it because tests don’t always include the whole topic
- We liked designing the posters and colouring it in and also writing info
- I liked that it’s not put under as much pressure
- It was peer-assessed, and fair
- I liked making posters
Bad points included:
- It was hard to do in such little time*
- I didn’t like the fact that if someone is off in your group it makes it harder*
- We didn’t like the peer assessing!
- I would rather a test! (NB this was from a group who hadn’t included everything on the checklist, and felt their final grade was unfair)
* More than one group highlighted these points.
I collected in the projects and feedback sheets and assigned final grades. In most cases pupils got the grade their peer assessors had given to them, but in one or two cases I downgraded someone because their feedback indicated that they hadn’t pulled their weight in the group.
With only a few exceptions both classes preferred the project to a test, and most seemed to like the peer assessment (as long as they felt it had been done fairly). They particularly liked the group work and creative aspects. In giving them three periods (including the assessment) I tried to ensure that it took roughly the same amount of class time as a test (revision, assessment, and feedback), but there was a clear feeling that they would have liked more time.
As might be expected, many of the grades were higher than typical class test grades. I compared the pupils’ project grades to their composite grades on their S2 reports, which were based on the mean of their class test results up to that point. As a rough breakdown, out of 38 pupils in total:
- 8 (21%) got exactly the same grade.
- 9 (24%) improved their grade by one.
- 13 (34%) improved their grade by two.
- 5 (13%) improved their grade by three.
- 1 (3%) improved her grade by four.
- 2 (5%) got a slightly lower grade (one grade down).
Obviously, peer-assessed (or even teacher-assessed) projects can’t replace class tests – this project did not in any way assess individual retention of knowledge or problem-solving ability. I do, however, think that its status in replacing the end of topic test (rather than preparing for it or supplementing it) was part of the reason why most groups put in so much effort.
A caveat: the “Earth and Space” topic is one of the more engaging S2 topics, and pupils typically do well in it. I would like to try running similar projects for other topics, and other year groups.