EVIDENCE CHAMPION: PEER CRITIQUE by Jennie White, Allenton Community Primary School

18 June 2018

Jennie White is an Assistant Head teacher at Allenton Community Primary school. She is an experienced teacher of 20 years and is an SLE for behaviour and assessment. Jennie is a co-author of Evidence based teaching in the Primary Classroom and wrote the chapter on Peer Critique.

Here Jennie shares her thoughts on why Peer Critique was introduced at Allenton Primary and the impact it has had on attainment and pupils.

Evidence Based teaching and Peer Critique were strategies that were developed at Allenton Primary in the summer term of 2013. As a school, we needed a new direction for CPD and wanted to empower teachers. Evidence based teaching enabled staff to identify an area of need within their classrooms, trial a strategy and evaluate its successes before it could be presented to the whole school and possibly change whole school policy. Peer Critique was one of the first initiatives introduced at Allenton, based on the work of Ron Berger “Ethics of Excellence”, and has subsequently been adopted across the school and has led to the development of other Evidence based teaching approaches.

Allenton Community Primary has been on an exciting journey over the past few years and Peer critique was the first step towards the development of a confident staff, who felt empowered to do what they felt was “right” for their class, a staff who feel able to take risks and evaluate the impact of the strategies they use on day to day basis because they are professionals who take the learning of the pupils in their care seriously.

Peer Critique was introduced to encourage children to be more reflective in their work and become independent learners who can identify next steps for improvement by themselves. As teachers, we regularly give feedback to pupils on next steps and the targets they need to achieve for ongoing improvement. As a school, Allenton recognised the need to empower our pupils so that they could reflect on their learning and take some ownership over the learning process.

“Most discussions of assessment start in the wrong place. The most important assessment that goes on in a school isn’t done to students but goes on inside students. Every student walks around with a picture of what is acceptable, what is good enough. Each time he works on something he looks at it and assesses it. Is this good enough? Do I feel comfortable handing this in? Does it meet my standards? Changing assessment at this level should be the most important assessment goal of every school. How do we get inside students’ heads and turn up the knob that regulates quality and effort.” (P103, ‘An Ethic of Excellence’)

We began by sharing the “Austin’s butterfly” video with the class so that they could understand the principles behind the theory but our focus in class was applying these techniques to English and maths.

Seeing that feedback from children, on other children’s work, was really powerful but they required some structures and frames to help them formulate their feedback in a positive way and develop the language of critique.

Trialling peer critique with a challenging group of year 6 pupils brought its own set of complications. The group had very low self esteem and took comments about their work very personally. The introduction of Peer critique therefore had to be handled sensitively and was as much about building relationships as it was about the work, in its early stages.

Each step of introducing peer critique was modelled and scaffolded to support children become reflective about the work they produced and supportive of each other. At times, my learning curve was as steep as that of the children:  one important lesson learnt was to know when to scaffold and when not to –as at times, my well intentioned support was stifling the responses of the children.  This was a key point when we shared Peer Critique with the whole school so that others did not make the same mistakes I had. The impact on improvement is clearly seen in some of the work produced by a Foundation Stage pupil before and after Peer Critique has taken place.   Children initially give feedback  verbally in Foundation Stage and them move to written critique on extended pieces of writing further up the school.

The successes achieved by the children, particularly in writing, however surpassed my expectations and enabled pupils to make over 2 years worth of progress in 2 terms.

FIRST DRAFT                                              FINAL DRAFT

By supporting each other, the children got better at recognising what the next steps for improvement were but by commenting on others work it meant that they began to automatically do these things in their writing, which meant that each time we used peer critique we started from a slightly higher starting point; which in turn had a huge impact on raising the self-esteem of the children. This for me personally is the true success of Peer Critique: yes, I want the children to achieve age related expectations, yes I want them to make progress but more than that I want them to feel like they have a voice, that they are in control of their own achievements and that they are independent and equipped to reflect on the challenges life brings and be able to identify where they want to go next. Peer critique did it all and it continues to raise expectations, outcomes and pupil relationships at Allenton as part of our everyday practice.

Posted on 18 June 2018
Posted in: Blog

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