Using peer feedback to improve students’ writing (Currently reading Huisman et al., 2019)

I wrote about involving students in creating assessment criteria and quality definitions for their own learning on Thursday, and today I want to think a bit about involving students also in the feedback process, based on an article by Huisman et al. (2019) on “The impact of peer feedback on university students’ academic writing: a Meta-Analysis”. In that article, the available literature on peer-feedback specifically on academic writing is brought together, and it turns out that across all studies, peer feedback does improve student writing, so this is what it might mean for our own teaching:

Peer feedback is as good as teacher feedback

Great news (actually, not so new, there are many studies showing this!): Students can give feedback to each other that is of comparable quality than what teachers give them!

Even though a teacher is likely to have more expert knowledge, which might make their feedback more credible to some students (those that have a strong trust in authorities), it also makes it more relevant to other students, and there is no systematic difference between improvement after peer feedback and feedback from teaching staff. But to alleviate fears related to the quality of peer feedback is to use peer feedback purely (or mostly) formative, whereas the teacher does the assessment themselves.

Peer feedback is good for both giver and receiver

If we as teachers “use” students to provide feedback to other students, it might seem like we are pushing part of our job on the students. But: Peer feedback improves writing both for the students giving it as well as for the ones receiving it! Giving feedback means actively engaging with the quality criteria, which might improve future own writing, and doing peer feedback actually improves future writing more than students just doing self-assessment. This might be, for example, because students, both as feedback giver and receiver, are exposed to different perspectives on and approaches towards the content. So there is actual benefit to student learning in giving peer feedback!

It doesn’t hurt to get feedback from more than one peer

Thinking about the logistics in a classroom, one question is whether students should receive feedback from one or multiple peers. Turns out, in the literature it is not (significantly) clear whether it makes a difference. But gut feeling says that getting feedback from multiple peers creates redundancies in case quality of one feedback is really low, or the feedback isn’t actually given. And since students also benefit from giving peer feedback, I see no harm in having students give feedback to multiple peers.

A combination of grading and free-text feedback is best

So what kind of feedback should students give? For students receiving peer feedback, a combination of grading/ranking and free-text comments have the maximum effect, probably because it shows how current performance relates to ideal performance, and also gives concrete advise on how to close the gap. For students giving feedback, I would speculate that a combination of both would also be the most useful, because then they need to commit to a quality assessment, give reasons for their assessment and also think about what would actually improve the piece they read.

So based on the Huisman et al. (2019) study, let’s have students do a lot of formative assessment on each other*, both rating and commenting on each other’s work! And to make it easier for the students, remember to give them good rubrics (or let them create those rubrics themselves)!

Are you using student peer feedback already? What are your experiences?

*The Huisman et al. (2019) was actually only on peer feedback on academic writing, but I’ve seen studies using peer feedback on other types of tasks with similar results, and also I don’t see why there would be other mechanisms at play when students give each other feedback on things other than their academic writing…


Bart Huisman, Nadira Saab, Paul van den Broek & Jan van Driel
(2019) The impact of formative peer feedback on higher education students’ academic writing: a Meta-Analysis, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44:6, 863-880, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2018.1545896

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  1. Pingback: Eight criteria for authentic assessment; my takeaways from Ashford-Rowe, Herrington & Brown (2014) - Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching

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