A R&D Community could be set up by any member of staff.Last year we established Research & Development Communities at St. Mary’s Catholic College. The members of the communities were self-selecting and the aim was to develop and embed best or emerging good practice within the College. Each R&D Community was set up to take forward an idea, innovation or approach by a group of staff that would lead to improved standards of attainment, levels of achievement, student well-being or student personal development.
- Each R&D Community had a named leader who would be responsible for the community, its outcomes and for leading a group of staff of between 3-8 people.
- Funding of £100 per person in the R&D Community was made available to fund the community’s work.
- The leader of the R&D Community must commit to knowledge capture and transfer at the college, local and regional level as required. The leader has a small reduction in teaching commitment to give her/him additional time
This mid-year report is from Natasha Preston who is leading a R&D Community looking at the Use of Peer & Self Assessment in English. Natasha is in her second year of teaching.
I love my job. I love my subject. I love planning. I love the students I teach, and yes, I even mean the challenging ones who make you question your sanity! However, there was one thing that truly made me question my decision to be an English teacher.
When I started at St. Mary’s last year, I was brimming with enthusiasm and determination to always be the best I could be for every student I taught. However, as an NQT, I’d yet to meet the demon who was to become my nemesis: marking! As an excitable NQT, I’d spend hours poring over students’ work with my green pen (never red of course!), stamping excellent work and leaving detailed feedback for students. As our school policy dictates that students must act upon the feedback and improve their work, in my first term I rarely felt that the marking was a waste of time and I could see the value of giving detailed feedback. After seeing the results of an improved piece of work, I would brim with pride that my comments had helped to create that.
Then the reality hit.
My massive workload increased and marking became a laborious task that resulted in very little pleasure. It wasn’t the marking itself, but the vast amounts that needed to be done and the time constraints that meant I was often working 12 hour days. It was impacting on my planning time and the sleepless nights would often leave my feeling grouchy. Being proactive, I spoke to colleagues and asked for advice, only to find that they were also struggling with our new policy, and I tried numerous strategies I had read about online. During a departmental CPD session, I broached the idea of using more peer assessment and most colleagues agreed that this would be ideal; unfortunately, the general consensus seemed to be that the students, “Were rubbish at it.” Teachers also noted that our students “hated” peer assessment and the idea was often met with a huge groan!
When the idea of leading an R&D community was broached, I was determined to find out if peer assessment could be the following things: effective, completed to the standard of a teacher and a way of improving students’ work. For a starting point, and to help focus my own aims, I completed the #5MinResearchPlan and set to work.
After recruiting other members of the department who had been feeling the strain of marking, and I assure you that I didn’t struggle in gaining volunteers, we started by identifying a cohort of students of which we could work with. Three classes were identified to be given ‘intensive’ peer assessment training and they were to be compared to the opposite side of the year of an equal ability level. The process involved one group simply being told to peer assess against the success criteria, whilst the second group were given training. Across the three cohorts, all ability levels were reflected, with varying target grades from 3c to 8cs. In addition to this a control group was also identified who were to have have their formative assessments marked, as usual, by a teacher.
What exactly was the ‘intensive’ training?
A variety of techniques were trialled and work in this area is on-going. Below is a list of just some of the things that were tried:
- Active work on exploring the success criteria and developing students’ ability to recognise the importance of engaging with success criteria.
- In response to students’ questionnaire answers, the important factors were identified and students produced videos on the importance of peer assessment. This builds on the work of my colleague, Helen, who is an advocate of flipped learning. Students really relished this task!
- Teacher modelling of poor, good and excellent examples of peer assessment comments.
- Providing students with specific step-by-step sheets detailing the process they needed to follow. This included simple instructions like 1) read through WITHOUT a pen in your hand 2) Read again and place a tick next to any parts you enjoyed. The enthusiasm for ticking was much higher than anticipated!
- Having a ‘special’ set of teacher pens that students could only use when peer assessment was taking place. Again, it’s often the simple things when it comes to engaging students in a fairly mundane task!
So what have I experienced so far?
Numerical data was gathered by assigning students an APP level prior to the peer assessment and after they had completed a learner response. Three students (highest, mid-range and lowest ability) were selected from each group and the results were interesting. I have included to results of one student from each group below starting with a Year 7 Middle Ability Group:
The data I have selected is representative of the findings across the board. Nevertheless, I have seen other things happen that have pleased me just as much:
- Students finally engaging with success criteria, instead of just sticking it in their books and ignoring it.
- Students who want to peer assess as they are realising that it helps them improve their own work, as well as their peers’ work.
- High quality feedback completed by students that is often more detailed and specific than what teachers would have been able to provide due to time constraints.
- It made teachers reflect on the success criteria they had been creating. Did it specify what it meant to be excellent? Had every point on it been taught explicitly?
- A buzz amongst staff who are now feeling confident enough to use peer assessment and to help ease the burden of their ever-increasing workloads.
- More time for planning engaging and rigorous lessons.
- Genuine excitement about trialling a new strategy that will benefit us all.
What happens next?
The development of this scheme is far from over and appropriate strategies for KS2, KS4 and KS5 need to be explored. Likewise, further development needs to take place on ensuring that students can peer assess reading with the same success of reading.
We hope to take part in a transition project with our local feeder primary schools and continue trying out other strategies. In addition to this, we would like to work with other departments on improving their approaches to peer assessment. In my humble opinion, I believe that research should be something that benefits the following: you individually your school, your department or your students. In an ideal world, it will meet all four of these criteria. As it stands, we have focused on three and hope to reach four by the end of the year.
I’m sure that some of you who are reading this may be scratching your heads and wondering what all of the fuss is about. Have you already been doing this for years? Fantastic! The point I need to make is that we hadn’t!
This may not feel like a ground-breaking idea, but it has broken the back of a mountain of marking that felt, at times, so debilitating to what we all strived to do: to be the best teachers we could hope to be.