Workshop on peer assessment

I’ve been asked to give a presentation, on Tuesday, to a group of new-ish community college teachers.  Since so many of my ideas are stolen reused with the kind permission of various blog authors, I thought I’d put my ideas out there for comments, suggestions, warnings, or admonishments…

The Audience

The workshop is part of a week-long course called Assessing and Evaluating Adult Learners that is mandatory for all new faculty at my school.  The participants will have zero, one, or at most two years of teaching experience.  Remember, they’re like me: no ed school degree, maybe no university degree.  Our school is not what the US considers a “community college” — Canada has no such thing as an Associate degree.  Our school offers one and two-year programs that range from plumbing to culinary arts to nail-care technician to office administration.  New faculty are hired based on their experience in the trade; for example, when I started teaching three years ago, I left a position as a sea-going design tech with the Canadian Coast Guard.

So we get hired, deal with the culture shock of leaving industry for an educational institution and, if we’re lucky, we have a summer to get organized.  That’s when people a do a little planning and take some of these week-long courses.  If we’re less lucky (like I was), we’re hired one day, in a classroom the next, and our unbelievably dedicated co-workers hold us up until the following summer when we can finally take a deep breath and get organized for the next go-around.  All new faculty are required to take 10 of these week-long courses within our first two years of employment.

The Workshop

I finished my 10 credits last summer; regular readers will be unsurprised that the facilitators marked me as an obsessive assessment geek.  They have asked me to offer a one-hour workshop about peer assessment.

Here are some of the ideas I have for the agenda.

0. Intros

I’ll ask each participant to introduce themselves with their name, program, experience using peer assessment, and any questions they have.  I’ll talk about the goals for the hour and the agenda.

1. What is peer assessment, and are you doing it already?

There are lots of simple or informal ways this can happen.  I’ll give examples and definitions, and explain my assumptions about terminology.  I’ll also explicitly ask whether they’ve used peer assessment.


  • Students inspect each other’s work in a shop class
  • Students compare and discuss their math assignment before handing it in
  • A student helps their classmate troubleshoot a lab that’s not working

2. Why use peer assessment?


  • I’d give tons of feedback on assignments, and students didn’t read it, or didn’t use it
  • Some students spent their shop time running to me every five minutes asking, “is this good?”
  • Some students couldn’t figure out when they were finished, or whether their work was good, or even what question to ask, so they kept fiddling with it endlessly instead of moving on to the next task
  • Students would hand in work without looking at the rubric
  • Students were afraid to try things that were unfamiliar


  • Peer-assessment helps students self-assess
  • More peer assessement and better self-assessment means that teacher-assessment can be focussed where it’s really needed

3.  What is good-quality assessment?

  1. Contains a specific diagnosis about what is well done and what should be improved
  2. Contains specific ideas about how to improve
  3. Given at the time that something can be done about it
  4.  Focuses on the student’s work, not their talent or intelligence

4. Practice: peer assessment of a performance task

I need a skill that’s simple and that we can all discuss together.  Since there is no clear overlap in our expertise, I’m planning to use a task that my students learn at the beginning of the program: how to inspect a solder joint, using a 3-point scale (smooth, shiny, clean).  This may be a mistake — it will increase cognitive load and threatens to bore anyone who feels alienated from “hands-on,” “skilled-trades” focussed concepts.  On the other hand, generic tasks like “riding a bike” can strike me as contrived and condescending.  I’ve got lots of slides of microscope close-ups of solder joints; I’ll show one, explain the rubric, and write some feedback, possibly using Jason Buell’s “sentence frames.”  I’ll have the participants assess my feedback on the 4-point scale above.  Then I’ll write some bad feedback, and ask them to improve it.

5. Practice: peer assessment of a writing task

For this, I’ll give them a short reading (probably The Praise A Child Should Never Hear, based on Carol Dweck’s research).  I’ll ask them to write feedback to the author, using the rubric for assessing reasoning that I’ve been using with my students. It asks readers to assess clarity, coherence, and cause.  It will probably need to be tweaked a bit so that it doesn’t refer to a physical model.

6. Review, questions

I’ll take questions and review the ideas that came up during the intros.  The handout package will contain some notes, examples of the worksheets (including extra copies of the rubric for assessing reasoning), a list of links and resources for further reading, as well as an evaluation sheet.  I’m experimenting with a new format of evaluation, cribbed from WillAtWorkLearning.  The draft so far is here.

The Booby-Traps


It can be hard sometimes to set a respectful tone in such a short time.  Some teachers will be brand new and have no experience to draw on, not even student teaching or practice teaching or what have you (remember, they’re coming straight from a professional kitchen, not ed school).  Others will have a couple of years under their belt, and be frustrated that I appear to be explaining peer assessment as if they’re not doing it already.  The only thing I can think of here is to ask at the beginning who is using it already and how.  That should help me gauge how much I can draw on them to share their experience, and let them know that at least I’m not assuming no one else has ever heard of this before.

As Shawn Cornally puts it:

I’m a huge douche when it comes to thinking I know what someone is about to say. I always think I do because the language of teaching is so plural. I need to work on that, I bet people think I’m mean. Or, stated another way: If you think you’re already “doing” every new idea, pedagogy, and assessment strategy, you’re probably not, and you may be douchey, like me.

That Won’t Work In My Classroom

I’ve never given a workshop for teachers before.  But I’ve attended lots of them, some crushingly awful.   (To be fair, presentations in general are often crushingly awful).  I fear this:

Some majority percentage of them was watching and waiting only for one moment. They were waiting for the one phrase or condition or fragment that would allow them to write the whole idea off. They wanted the excuse to say, “That wouldn’t fly in my class.”

(credit: Dan Meyer)

I suspect that the likely source of that sentiment is something like “the students don’t know enough to do that yet.”  I’m trying to address that by showing explicitly the decision-making process of what feedback I can reasonably expect my students to give, and what I can’t.  I’m focussing on the idea that feedback doesn’t have to be about correctness.  If it is about correctness, it doesn’t have to be about completeness. Peer assessment can take some of the routine feedback off of teachers’ hands and put it in students’ hands.  That leaves more teacher time for the things that students truly can’t do (yet).

Shawn again:

Teachers want to be validated as professional educators and content knowledge specialists. This need comes out during discussions and can often be very repetitive.

I hope that distinguishing between feedback students can give and feedback teachers are needed for can alleviate this a bit.

I’m also taking pointers from Dan on this one: rehearsal, jokes about whiskey, frequent nods to all subject areas,working through examples of how to use peer assessment with both writing tasks and performance tasks.  That leaves me drawing a blank about how to deal with this:

Even two years into teaching… I was so comfortable, cocky, and sure of my methods I would find any way to dismiss a good suggestion.

(Dan again.)

The irony is not lost on my that I’m two years into teaching (at this school) and cocky enough to get up and pretend to tell someone else how to teach.

No Through-Line

The points seem disconnected.  They’re about peer assessment but I get the feeling they don’t hang together.

Too Much Stuff

This is probably too much for a 1hr presentation.  I could let participants choose which of the two feedback methods they wanted to experiment with to gain some time.

Got any other suggestions?  Fire away!


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