A couple of months ago, we began trying out protocols for professional development with our teachers and learned how powerful they can be. Of course, our teachers being the life-long learners and risk-takers that they are, they immediately decided to try using protocols for peer feedback in the classroom. They believe that what works for teachers should work for students… and so another experiment began.
Laura, one of our secondary Language Arts teachers, had a student who was having difficulty moving forward with his writing. Laura had conferenced with him several times, but he was attached to his piece and resisted her feedback. She couldn’t get through to him, but in an “aha!” moment, decided that this could be the perfect time to try out a protocol. She asked him how he felt about the idea and he was eager to give it a try.
Laura decided that the whole class would be involved in the protocol, so that they could all experience it and see how they felt about using it for peer feedback. She set up the following schedule for the protocol:
- Student presentation (5 min)
- Presenter speaks, peers take notes
- Peers read historical fiction piece (10 min)
- Peers ask clarifying questions (5 min)
- Question and answer style, all speak
- Silent writing (5 min)
- Presenter and peers silently jot down their ideas
- Peers give feedback (15 min)
- Peers speak, presenter quietly takes notes
- Student reflects on what he learned (5 min)
- Presenter speaks
Laura let students know that their feedback should be honest and helpful, but not hurtful, then stood back and let them work. Her only job was to monitor their use of time and remind them of who was allowed to speak at any given time.
After reading the historical fiction piece, students had quite a few questions for the author – some parts were not clear to them, and he explained what he was trying to accomplish in different sections of the piece. Then students took a few minutes to write down any ideas they wanted to share. When they began giving feedback, they started out a little slowly, but very quickly picked up momentum, one voice adding to another. The student writer nodded every once in a while and took a lot of notes. At the end of the protocol, he summed up what he had learned, explained the changes he intended to make in his story, and thanked his peers for their help.
Laura wrapped up by asking students how they felt about the experience. Their responses were overwhelmingly positive, and all of them asked to have their writing shared in a protocol group as well. The student who had volunteered to share his writing said that because he couldn’t speak during the feedback session, he was forced to truly listen to everyone’s ideas. He admitted that if he could have responded, he would have felt defensive and would have argued against their comments. But the 15 minutes of silence gave him time to reflect on what he was hearing, so that when it was his turn to respond, he realized that a lot of the observations about his writing were valid. Much of the feedback he got from his peers was the same as what his teacher had told him previously. When I asked him why he had now listened to the same feedback that he initially resisted when his teacher gave it to him, he said that it was more meaningful coming from his peers.
A few days later, he handed in his final draft, and he’d made a huge leap in his writing. His story’s plot was tighter, he had stronger voice, and his word choice had improved immensely. The protocol was more successful than we ever imagined it would be!
The following week, Laura set up small protocol groups, in which one student presented their writing to three peers who reviewed it and gave them feedback. To save time, students read each other’s pieces before class and the time frame was tightened up to allow 30 minutes for the protocol. In this way, two students in each group were able to receive feedback from their peers in a class period. Laura listened in as the groups worked to make sure they were on track and to push their thinking when necessary.
This is the first time we’ve found real value in peer feedback. Often when peers review each other’s work, they’re less than honest, or they’re not sure what kind of feedback they should give. Somehow, piggy-backing off each other’s comments allowed students to critique more deeply and to really think about the strengths and weaknesses of a piece of work.
When we shared this experience with the rest of our staff, teachers began to think of different areas they could use protocols. Science and Social Studies teachers felt that it would be extremely helpful when students are brainstorming project ideas, or at some point during the project process in order to get ideas and feedback.
In a few short weeks, protocols have not only improved our professional development, but have allowed students to truly discover the power of peer feedback.