“Your point didn’t really come across.”
I needed to prompt students to provide
concrete examples of what they meant.
Only one semester later, as the same
students again began to formally share a
recently completed project, the picture
was quite different. The minute I asked
who wanted to share first, every hand
was raised high. Students rose out of
their seats, begging to go first. When the
presenter had finished, students eagerly
offered helpful praise and criticism.
Using peer critiques to evaluate and
improve student work is a natural
outgrowth of authentic assessment.
own professional judgment) when
deciding which activities to alter, add,
or delete from a unit, and I let students
know that I use their feedback for this
Create a Trusting Community
To go from fear to eagerness, students
need an environment of trust and caring
(Noddings, 2009). I purposefully try to
make all students feel like valued
members of the learning community in
large and small ways. I remark on new
haircuts, ask about vacation plans, and
commiserate over upcoming tests. I
keep a wall calendar noting student
birthdays and carry a pad of sticky
notes to write down specific questions
students ask that I cannot immediately
answer. There is no one best way to
create a trusting community; your own
methods must reflect your personality
and that of your students.
Model Acceptance of Criticism
When students alert me to errors I make
in writing, speaking, grading, and so
forth, I try to model mature acceptance
of critical feedback. I openly thank them
and remark that everyone makes
mistakes and that we all need our fellow
learners’ help to improve.
I also solicit feedback. At the end of
any unit or project, I ask students for
specific comments about individual
activities. I often distribute a form that
lists the different activities we did
accompanied by the following questions:
; What activity do you wish we could
have spent more time on? Why?
; What activity should next year’s
class skip altogether? Why?
; What activity would you add to this
unit? Be as specific as possible.
I use this information (along with my
Train Students to Take the Lead
The student whose work is being
critiqued should stand at the front of
the room so that the entire audience can
clearly view the project under discussion. This arrangement also makes the
critique less personal, with comments
and suggestions that classmates offer
pertaining to the work itself, not the
student as a person.
I usually stand to the side of the room
so that all comments travel directly from
student to student. Because the goal is
to make the teacher simply a fellow
member of the discussion, the student
presenter should call on his or her peers
as they raise a hand to comment. It
takes a while for student ownership to
become ingrained. At first, students try
to address their comments to me and
look at me for confirmation. But when
the shift finally occurs, and the
presenter smiles, ignores my raised
hand, and calls first on a peer, it’s
I take brief notes during the critique
to give to the student receiving the feed-back—or I rotate this role among
students. No one can present articulately, field comments and concerns,
and look at the audience while also
remembering verbal comments.
ment with the format until you feel
confident that your students are
learning from critiques. I recommend
using peer critiques during the creation
of a project rather than just at the end; I
have seen definite improvement in the
quality of student work when students
get feedback along the way.
Peer critiques work in a wide variety
of settings. Students can watch a video
of the previous evening’s music concert
and offer evaluations of their own band
or choir performance. Students can
share different methods of solving the
same math problem, examine blueprints
for house designs, or offer feedback on
science fair proposals.
Although peer critiques improve
students’ critical-thinking ability and
provide them with a broader spectrum
of evaluation, the less obvious benefit is
motivational. Students love to offer their
opinions. As they share what they think,
they take genuine pleasure in seeing—
and contributing to—the work their
peers have created. EL
Ede, L. (1984). Audience: An introduction
to research. College Composition and
Communication, 35( 2), 140–154.
Henderson, P., & Karr-Kidwell, P. J. (1998).
Authentic assessment: An extensive literary
review and recommendations for administrators. Retrieved from ERIC Database
Noddings, N. (2009). Teaching themes of
care. In Allan C. Ornstein, Edward F.
Pajak, & Stacey B. Ornstein (Eds),
Contemporary Issues in Curriculum (pp.
64–70). Boston: Pearson Education.
Experiment with Format
There is no one best method to use for
peer critiques. The process should be
individualized to fit the kind of work
being examined, the time constraints of
the class, and students’ ages. Experi-
Amy Reynolds coordinates the gifted
program at North Salem Middle/High
School, North Salem, New York;