How to create effective peer feedback criteria

Nhi Nguyen
Rebecca LeBoeuf
Rebecca LeBoeuf
February 8, 2021
Table of Contents

Feedback is often regarded as a key element to successful teaching and learning, being “one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement” [2]. Maintaining continuous feedback significantly enhances students' understanding of the subject and gives them opportunities for self-improvement. Classroom feedback is also closely associated with increases in confidence, engagement, and motivation for learning [2]. Therefore, it can be beneficial to consider cultivating a strong feedback culture while designing courses.

Feedback is undoubtedly powerful, but it needs to come from both sides. In other words, student-to-student feedback is as important as teacher-to-student feedback. Appearing usually in the form of peer and group review, student-to-student feedback fosters learners' objectivity, critical thinking, motivation and engagement throughout the learning experience. However, it remains challenging for teachers to facilitate peer/group feedback, plus the feedback quality from peers rarely compares to that of teachers. This is in part because students tend to value comments from teachers over their peers, and find it hard pinpointing problems in others' work. Most importantly, students are often unclear about “the evaluation criteria and how to deliver constructive comments". [3]

John Hattie, an influential educator, author of the “holy grail for teaching” - Visible learning, points out the problem with peer feedback:

“Most of the feedback that students receive about their classroom work is from other students – and much of that feedback is wrong.”

Considering this dilemma, how can you, as teachers, ensure that your students deliver high quality feedback and receive them productively? Besides designing clear, detailed course instructions, developing clear, specific feedback criteria to guide your students throughout the feedback process is another beneficial solution. This article will share with you 7 key essentials to establish effective feedback, which can be used as a framework to design feedback criteria. Furthermore, you will also receive  plenty of ideas about how to apply this framework in online settings, with the support of learning technology.

For further insights into feedback facilitation, check out our ebook – "Feedback for learning: A comprehensive guide".

Join Rotterdam School of Management to explore the best practices for implementing CBE and discover the new FeedbackFruits Competency-Based Assessment solution.

What is feedback?

While many writings are dedicated to highlighting the importance of feedback, few have attempted to provide a clear definition of feedback and its purposes. To produce effective feedback, I believe that we need to look more closely at what feedback is, and what it is intended for. John Hattie provides a concrete and comprehensive definition of the term:

“Feedback refers to the information provided by an agent (e.g., teacher, peer, book, parent, self, experience) regarding aspects of one's performance or understanding” [2].

The purpose of feedback is to reduce the “gap” between current performance and success criteria of the students [1]. In details, feedback provides cues that directs the learner to his/her errors, thus allowing him/her to improve and adjust in time [2].

Based on this definition, one might assume that feedback comes in the form of corrective responses to point out students' mistakes and errors. In fact, feedback varies in forms: cues, corrective responses, praise or punishment; also in how it is delivered: spoken or written form, audio or visual, in-person or remote, immediate or delayed [2]. Depending on the learners' characteristics and learning settings, teachers should decide on the most suitable feedback to initiate “greater learning” [5].

Develop comprehensive peer feedback criteria - 7 essentials to effective feedback

To generate a fruitful learning experience, teachers must know how to deliver good feedback, and at the same time make sure learners are on the same page during the feedback process. A set of feedback criteria would be a wonderful guiding light for your students, and you can easily create it using 7 essentials to effective feedback: goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly; timely, consistent, and culturally relevant. These elements are summarised and gathered from studies, literature and sharing from university teachers/instructors. In the following section, I will elaborate on each element with explanation and examples.  

1| Goal-referenced

Effective feedback should align with the success criteria and performance goals determined in the beginning of the course. Make sure that your students are clear about the end goals of the task or assignment, and keep in mind these objectives when doing peer review or group member evaluation. For example, in designing the peer review criteria for a writing assignment, add a prompt like “Does your peer’s writing reflect on...?” or “Did your peer manage to cover the intended goals outlined for the task?”.

2| Tangible and transparent

Any useful feedback system involves not only a clear goal, but also tangible results related to the goal. This means that effective feedback should provide evidence on which parts the peers made mistakes. Simply saying “Good job" or “You did well" isn't enough, feedback should be detailing learners' performance as compared to the intended goals. In the feedback rubric, teachers can either categorise the feedback cues according to big themes, or provide prompts requiring students to specify their comments.

3| Actionable

Besides informing peers of their problems, feedback needs to provide actionable suggestions that allow learners to know how they can improve their work. This would prevent the peer reviews from being personal attacks, thus allowing for opportunities of self-regulation and improvement. Encourage your students to provide actional peer feedback by asking questions like “Do you have any suggestions on where your peers can improve their work?” or “In what ways do you think this report can be improved?”.

4| User-friendly

Effective feedback can also take the form of proper appraisal or encouragement. Students might not feel comfortable with receiving all corrective comments. Though praise contains little task-related information and has little effect on learners' engagement, incorporating praise with other feedback forms would make students feel more positive and motivated. You can absolutely allow your students to acknowledge their peers' good points, by adding feedback cues like: “Where do you think your friends have done well?”, or reminding students to balance between corrective and appraisal comments. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘hamburger’ model, where more critical comments are ‘sandwiched’ between positive feedback. Furthermore, setting a consistent tone for feedback delivery among your students is beneficial in facilitating a fruitful peer review process.

“Feedback should be positive”, said Dr. Emilia Illana Mahiques, Lecturer of Spanish Language, at Cornell University when sharing the three factors contributing to high quality feedback. Most importantly, positive feedback only generates positive impact if it includes detailed explanation and elaboration. Saying why you think your peers’ writing is good encourages them to replicate the strong points in the subsequent work.

5| Timely

The sooner students can receive feedback, the faster they can make changes and improve their current work. Therefore, always make sure that your students provide peer feedback on time. Within the virtual setting, teachers can set up friendly reminders for students on important dates or time to finish their peer feedback. For example, with Peer Review and Group Member Evaluation, teachers can generate deadline notices to make sure students provide peer comments in a timely manner.

6| Consistent

“Performers can only adjust their performance successfully if the information fed back to them is stable, accurate, and trustworthy.” [5, p. 7]. If we want student-to-student feedback to be beneficial, students should know how to be consistent producing and giving comments. This can be done by developing a detailed feedback criteria which closely aligns with the achievement goals of the tasks.

Dr. Tiffany Gunning of Deakin University presented a comprehensive 4 level to guide students in evaluating their peers and themselves in teamwork skills. Read her use case for more details on how she incorporated authentic assessment into 6 STEM courses.

7| Culturally relevant

Effective feedback should take into account students' background. Learners from collectivist cultures would perceive feedback in a much different way from those with a more individualistic background [1]. Therefore, teachers must make sure that their students are interculturally sensitive when delivering peer feedback. This can be achieved by integrating both praises and corrective comments, or maintaining an element of anonymity. For example, FeedbackFruits tools allow teachers to hide students' identity when giving comments, and replace them with fruit names. This feature not only helps students feel more comfortable with giving feedback, but also turns the peer review into a more interesting activity.

Example of peer feedback rubric using 7 elements

To illustrate how the afore-mentioned elements can be used to develop a peer feedback rubric, we have created a sample feedback criteria. Keep in mind that this is just an example and there are different formats that you can utilise to design the rubric: criterion-based, analytic, checklist, or holistic. Regardless of the forms, always make sure that your feedback criteria reflects the described 7 elements to generate a high quality peer review process.

Sample (click to access the pdf file): Criteria for peer review for research paper

Further resources on feedback

The power of feedback is undeniable, as proven by decades of in-depth research and studies. “Less teaching plus more feedback is the key to achieving greater learning.” (Wiggins, p. 132). Teachers can make sure students receive feedback in multiple formats (verbal, audio-visual, teacher-students, or peer comments), and in multiple ways with an innovative mindset and learning technology (Wiggins, p. 132).

For further ideas and resources on how to deliver effective feedback and generate a worthwhile learning experience for your students, check out these resources: 

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