Peer Review – Aiming for the Bull’s Eye

Sir Michael Wilshaw commented recently in the Telegraph that inspectors “don’t see enough extended reading and extended writing” in English lessons. This has prompted a good deal of debate in our department staffroom: it’s all very well saying that inspectors want to see extended writing, but how would this work in practice? How would it be possible to evidence impact and progress in a lesson focused on extended writing?

After much head scratching in my department, we decided that the answer lay in peer assessment and careful redrafting. Not only would this help to embed the culture of craftsmanship written about so eloquently by @huntingenglish, but it would also enable us to nurture our pupils’ intellectual resilience through structured peer scrutiny (see Zoe Elder’s inspirational Full on Learning for further details).

Anyway, the upshot of all my musing is that I thought I’d share the best tool that I have come across for self and peer review – The Evaluation Target Board. The Target Board was created by Thinkwell and I was introduced to it through the Connections for Learning programme at my school. However, I’ve added my own ‘twist’– the magic is in the plenary! This is how I have made use of it to help Y8 pupils improve their persuasive writing.

This sequence of activities is based on the TV programme Room 101. Celebrity guests are asked to make an argument for ‘things’ (in the loosest sense of that word) to be consigned for all eternity to Room 101 (see Orwell’s 1984 for literary context). If you are unfamiliar with the format of the show, here is a clip.

I begin by asking pupils what they consider the most essential elements of powerful persuasive writing. Pupils work in pairs to ‘brainstorm’ their ideas. They feedback and I collect their ideas on the board. Depending on the group and the ability level, we might end up with something like this: emotive language; rhetorical questions; facts & opinions, etc…

Next, I ask them to rank the following examples ‘what I wrote’. Apologies to cat lovers.

Example 1: I really don’t like cats. They are very upsetting. Basically, they act like they own the place. They’ve got horrible rough tongues and they are always licking their sticky bits. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they’ve got really smelly poo. I think that they should go into Room 101.

Example 2: I can’t stand cats. We call them pets, but basically they couldn’t care less about us. They just parade around the house, acting like they own the place. What’s the point in having a pet that thinks it’s superior to you?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, they spend half of the day sleeping and the other half licking their sticky bits with their horrible, rough tongues. What have they got to be superior about?

And just when you thought they couldn’t get any more disgusting, they leave a dead thing in your shoe as a ‘present.’

Not only that but they have the stinkiest poo in the whole world.

Go on – stick the moggy in Room 101. You know you want to.

Example 3: If I could have one wish – just one – it would be that every cat in the whole world would spontaneously combust at my command. Kitty apocalypse! And, boy, have those furry little blighters got it coming!

It’s not just the way that they parade around the house acting as if they own the place; it’s not the way they spend half the day snoring on some sun-lit cushion and the other half licking their sticky bits, while you’re trying to eat your dinner – it’s not even the way they wake you up in the morning by clawing your chest and trying to curl up on your face. No, it’s the fact that they think that they are better than you.

And just when you thought that they couldn’t be any more revolting they leave a surprise in your shoe. Some twitching, half dead/ half alive rodent or bird – its still warm guts squelching in your sock.

Trust me – I won’t rest until the last of the feline species is crammed, spitting and yowling into Room 101!

Following the rank order exercise, pupils share the features of the text which they have identified as most effective. Following feedback, I ask them if they want to change their list of criteria. It is at this point that I give out the target boards and ask the pupils to record their effective writing criteria (in no particular order) against the bullet points. The target board that I used on this ocassion had five bullet points and therefore required five criteria, but you can vary the number of bullet points for purposes of differentiation.

By this stage, the class have engaged in paired and grouped work and they should all have demonstrated progress . You can make this progress ‘visible’ by asking pupils to work on mini-white boards and to display their criteria before and after the ranking exercise.

The next phase involves the pupils working individually, planning and writing their Room 101 speech. If they are stuck, I suggest ‘Facebook’, ‘Karaoke’ and ‘Justin Bieber’ as deserving candidates.

It is at this point that the target boards come into their own. All of the pupils swap their work and use their target boards to peer review the work that they have been given. If criterion number 1 is ‘a strong opening’ and the piece they are marking has the strongest opening they can imagine, they write number 1 in the bull’s eye. If the opening is weak, number 1 is written in one of the outer concentric circles or off the board altogether. They then repeat this procedure with each of the criteria. A perfect piece of work would have all of the numbers in the bull’s eye.

First draft
First draft target board evaluation

Pupils then have to redraft at least the first three paragraphs of their peers’ work, using the criteria and trying to ‘improve’ the writing in accordance with the criteria, so that they can justify moving all of the numbers into the centre of the target. In the plenary, pupils read out before and after versions and explain how they improved it, using the criteria. I have found that there is immense power in asking the pupils to articulate how they have improved the work. It delivers quality metacognition.

Second Draft
Second Draft Evaluation Target

Finally, because pupils have worked in pairs/ groups and selected only a limited number of criteria, there will be variation in the criteria that pupils have used to assess and improve their peers’ work. I ‘blow up’ the work to A3 size and create a gallery in the classroom, displaying the ‘improved’ writing alongside the target board and criteria. Pupils wander around the room, reading the work and I ask them to stop at the piece of work which they feel is most effective. I take note of where most of the pupils have gathered and ask them to explain why they have chosen that piece of work. This opens up a space for a discussion about the most essential criteria for persuasive writing.

The target boards are incredibly versatile. You can suppy your own criteria or the pupils can generate them from exemplar matrerial (as above) or from A Level or GCSE mark schemes. I have used them to great effect across all key stages.

Have fun!


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