Research School Network: Oral Peer Feedback in Writing – unlocking the full potential of a unique resource Rachael Wilson, Deputy Director at Norwich Research School

Oral Peer Feedback in Writing – unlocking the full potential of a unique resource

Rachael Wilson, Deputy Director at Norwich Research School

There has been much talk about talk in the last couple of years – with good reason! Research continues to demonstrate that from the very start, life is not an even playing field for children in terms of their exposure to vocabulary, conversation and opportunities to elaborate on or articulate their ideas[i]. We know that as children progress through their school careers, if action is not taken, gaps widen into chasms[ii]. Most importantly perhaps, although the full impact of multiple lockdowns over the last two years on children’s progress is not clear, it is prudent to anticipate that existing disadvantage gaps will have been exacerbated[iii]. Throw into this context the challenge of teaching children to be effective and articulate writers across a range of purposes, audiences and disciplines, and we have ourselves an urgent and complicated challenge.

We must not lose sight of the resourcefulness and ability of our children to learn good habits, however. I recall last year, towards the end of a Year 6 English lesson focusing on descriptive writing, when a small group of children in my class got up, book in hand, and sat down together to start reading each other’s work. Hovering slightly, I could hear them praising each other’s word choices, referring to objectives, offering suggestions for alternatives, and helping with errors in punctuation and spelling.

There was so much that thrilled me as a teacher about this!

- It was helpful for their writing, leading directly to small but marked improvements
- It was collaborative, building social skills, and inclusive, giving everyone a voice
- Minor errors were detected before reaching me, meaning my feedback time could be better spent
- They approached their talk as accountable[iv]: it was necessary for the children to use precise language and elaborate on their thinking in a lower-stakes space. They knew the purpose was to improve their writing and worked to re-word problematic sentences aloud.
- It was self-initiated, showing metacognitive understanding and good learning behaviour, with the clear implication that they had been taught not only how to do this effectively, but understood why. That this had become a routine in their classroom.

The children’s actions at first appeared to be spontaneous, but I was curious about steps had brought this particular group of children to this point, as their previous teachers very clearly had taught this. It made me think: what can we do to ensure that the potential for all of our students as peer coaches isn’t lost or squandered? Crucially, what do we need to do to make the most of really effective peer feedback, particularly in a subject as complex as writing?

The EEF Guidance report on Teacher Feedback to improve Pupil Learning[v] focuses less on the specific vehicle for feedback, more on the strategic planning and purpose for which it is used. It was clear from both the automaticity and the quality of the conversations the children were having that this had been modelled and practiced deliberately and routinely over time. The knowledge of how to give and receive effective feedback had been taught and evaluated with these children[vi].

Peer feedback is not teacher feedback, and nor should it be. Just as in the EEF Guidance it is clear that oral feedback does not replace written, the carefully planned and structured use of peer feedback adds another, complementary strand to children’s capacity to review their own work, articulate their ideas and feel valued.

The use of other learners as aids for both evaluation of work and contribution of ideas is not new, but may not be given enough strategic and clear modelling and support to maximise its potential. Just as the EEF Guidance report on Metacognition and Self Regulated Learning[vii] highlights, these complex skills must be demonstrated explicitly through teacher talk, scaffolding and challenge. Peer feedback also thrives as part of the classroom routine through a culture of discussion, clarity of objectives and a shared desire for continuous improvement.

How to create a classroom environment for peer feedback to thrive – some ideas and suggestions:

- Explicit instruction: for younger children, this could include practising the use of stem sentences, specific language or gestures, and for older students looking together at what makes helpful and unhelpful feedback.
- Scaffolds or models: for example success criteria, rubrics, lists of content to find or specific content to discuss to provide a focus for the feedback
- Teacher modelling: demonstrating giving feedback, having children give teacher feedback and evaluating it
- Challenge: prompts to encourage elaboration, improving vocabulary choices, etc
- Routines: carefully planning in regular opportunities to practice giving feedback to peers; use of roles within groups
- Environment: giving high status to children’s observations, drawing attention to precise language, encouraging and modelling listening to each other, promoting and valuing meaningful discussion in classrooms.


[i]Language as a child Wellbeing indicator- EIF report
[ii]Education Policy Institute- Annual Policy Report 2020
[iii]Bridging the Word Gap at Transition – Oxford Language Repo
[iv]Accountable Talk- UNESCO International Bureau of Education
[v]EEF Guidance report- Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning
[vi]Impact- Using Peer Assessment as an Effective Learning Strategy in the Classroom
[vii]EEF Guidance Report- Metacognition and Self Regulated Learning

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