How to give constructive and useful Peer-to-Peer Feedback

One of the ways that our students grow and excel throughout their studies, during many of our OpenClassrooms programs, is through peer-to-peer assessment.

This type of feedback of student work is a vital part of the learning experience because it will inevitably take place in the real world of work too. This is a strategy that teaches students the skills of critical thinking, giving and receiving feedback, and taking responsibility for their own learning.

One of the most valuable contributions anyone can make to another person’s learning is a constructive comment.

Is it easy?

Giving constructive criticism to a peer, and receiving and reflecting upon it, are skills in themselves.

Of course, you have a responsibility when you are assessing another person’s work, which you must keep in mind. A great approach to ensure you remain sensitive during the process is to always imagine how you would feel if you were receiving the feedback that you are giving.

Also, remember that the process of doing a peer-to-peer review really benefits everyone. Even if you are the one giving the feedback you are also analyzing and learning from what someone else has done. And ultimately, the kind of feedback you give speaks just as much about you as it does the reviewee.

So here is our advice on how to do peer-to-peer assessment sensitively and effectively, so that it is a useful and a positive experience for all.

Know the difference between “good” and “bad” feedback

We all know what it is like to be on the receiving end of bad feedback: we feel ‘got at’, ‘attacked’, ‘put down’, and generally finish up feeling, at best, deflated, and, at worst, insecure.

Some of the basic characteristics of bad feedback are that it is directed globally at the person; it is unhelpful, it does not suggest change or solutions, it is not delivered thoughtfully, and it comes from the needs of the critic rather than the needs of the person receiving it.

Good feedback should be constructive, specific, kind, justified and relevant.

This affirms the worth of the person and gives support whilst offering a new constructive perspective. In so doing, the feedback shows value in the person who is receiving it and that the giver is sensitive to their needs and goals.

This does not mean that only praise should be given; in fact, fake praise or praise directed at the person rather than what they have done can be quite counterproductive because it can feel patronizing. Any critical matters though should be raised in an overall supportive context so that this creates an atmosphere of trust.

Top tip to keep in mind: Helpful feedback makes a conscious distinction between the person – who should always be valued – and their work – which may be subject to critical comment.

How to give useful feedback

The following perspectives will help guide you down the right path as you approach your next peer-to-peer assessment.

Be consciously non-judgmental – offer your personal view, but remember not to act as an authority. Give your personal reactions and feelings rather than value-laden statements, for example, use comments like, ‘I feel … when you …’. Saying things like “just a couple of thoughts”, or “something to consider”, are also effective ways of relaxing the conversation.

Be positive – say what you appreciate. Don’t just focus on what you react negatively towards. The key here is to do this in an authentic way in relation to something that you genuinely feel, rather than because you feel something positive is required.

Be respectful – be constructive in your feedback, and always respect the other person’s work and way of doing things. Also remember, they are still in the learning process, just like you.

Be specific – generalizations are unhelpful. Give your peer enough information to pinpoint the areas that you are referring to, and make sure they have a clear idea of what you are saying about those specific areas. Provide examples.

Offer advice/solutions – When pointing out areas for improvement, also provide possible solutions, approaching the topic in alternative ways. This will motivate them and further their learning experience.

Be direct – say what you mean. Don’t wrap it up in circuitousness, fancy words, or abstract language.

Be aware – note your own emotional state before you give feedback. If you are feeling anxious or defensive this may well distort your otherwise helpful comments. Be sure to approach your feedback with positivity and spirit of learning. Think about how your feedback will be perceived.

Be diligent – check your response. Is it an accurate reflection of what you want to express? Have you perceived the project or assignment accurately? It can be really discouraging to receive criticism from someone who hasn’t paid close attention to what you have done.

Get a second opinion

One of the best ways to learn is to get feedback yourself, and this applies just as readily to your peer reviews. So, ask for feedback on your feedback. This way you will learn how your comments are perceived, and also allow you to improve your feedback-giving skills.

A friend or family member may be a good audience for this. Or your mentor may be the best person to get feedback from.

Practice giving Feedback

We don’t expect that giving peer-to-peer feedback will come naturally to everyone. The skills of delivering (and receiving) it can be developed with practice. You’ll practice through your OpenClassrooms program. Also consider practicing in other venues to help hone your technique. You will surely need this skill as you progress in your career.

And don’t forget that you will likely also be on the receiving end of peer-to-peer assessments during your OpenClassrooms program and in the workplace.

Learn tips on how to receive peer-to-peer feedback here.

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