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Peer Assessment: Theoretical Framework
Though the idea of allowing students, and low achieving ones at that, to check the correctness of the work of their peers might seem lacking in insight, the phenomenon of peer assessment is based on a solid theory.
Friedman, Cox and Maher (2007) explain that the phenomenon of peer assessment aligns with the key tenets of the Expectancy Theory and the motivation approach to teaching that the above-mentioned theory suggests.
Among the key problems of peer assessment, the lack of proper knowledge on the subject matter, as well as the major assessment strategies among learners should be named. Indeed, students have a rather vague idea of the merits that academic endeavours must be evaluated on (Falchikov & Goldfinch 2000).
As a result, the teacher must condition the positive impact of peer assessment (Friedman et al. 2007). Friedman et al. specifies that the process will only be efficient if the students have taken the concept of meaningful rating seriously.
The Expectancy Theory states that, for peer assessment to be successful, it is necessary to motivate the students for carrying out the evaluation process.
Triggering students’ enthusiasm may be a tricky task, Friedman et al. warn, since, in most cases, students have a negative idea of group projects due to the previous experiences of working in a dysfunctional group (Friedman et al. 2007, p. 581).
In the course of the research, the areas such as new approaches to scaffolding, the benefits of peer reviewing and the possible issues triggered by scaffolding have been covered The specified fields seem to be the most important ones, as they allow for a deeper insight on the learning process.
As a result, they enable the instructor to choose the peer assessment approach that helps enhance knowledge and skills acquisition among learners.
Vygotsky and the Concept of Scaffolding
It should be born in mind that the idea of peer assessment is not new – far from it, the phenomenon was suggested by Vygotsky in his sociocultural theory.
In addition to the sociocultural theory and its key postulates, the idea of peer assessment should also be viewed through the tenets of the zone of proximal development theory (Fernández et al., 2001).
According to the zone of proximal development theory, the instruction–response approach towards modelling the learner’s understanding of knowledge and the acquisition of the appropriate skills can be carried out through the provision of “symmetrical” (Fernández et al., 2001, p. 41) interactions between learners.
These relationships, in their turn, facilitate the process of knowledge acquisition, reducing the zone of proximal development to its lowest. The sociocultural theory allows a slightly different perspective on the subject matter.
However, the specified theory seems to provide an additional chance for a teacher to solve the problem researched (i.e., the introduction of low-performing students to the works of Shakespeare).
Reading, which used to be considered a “purely individualistic skill” (Reza & Mahmood, 2012, p. 68), in fact, can and must be helped through scaffolding, as it “active participation and interaction of the learners involved in it” (Reza & Mahmood, 2012, p. 69).
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Researches show that the incorporation of the scaffolding techniques literally propels the low-achieving group forward, whereas the students that display an overall proficient grasp of the subject progress to a considerably lesser extent.
This begs the question whether scaffolding may possibly affect the achievements of more efficient students negatively (Shepard 2000).
Modern Scaffolding: Effects of Peer Assessment
While the concept of peer assessment dates back to Vygotsky’s attempt at conceptualising peer evaluation, it still proves as viable even at present, mostly due to the updates that it has undergone.
The phenomenon of scaffolding has been researched by a variety of theorists; the resulting theory of modern scaffolding suggests that the process of peer assessment improves the students’ performance by affecting their ability to acquire new knowledge and skills in a problem-based learning environment (Simons & Klein, 2006).
Since recently, two key types of peer assessment have been developed. These are strategic and conceptual support, which guide students towards developing a specific set of standards for their peers and themselves, as well as strategies for analyzing and approaching the task in question.
The resulting ability to “develop a strong, evidence based argument to support learners at a specific stage” (Simons & Klein, 2006, p. 45) observed in the specified environment can be viewed as a graphic example of the success of modern scaffolding.
The concept of modern scaffolding has been expanded and enriched by Dylan William as well.
According to William, skills evaluation refers to the type of academic activities that can be “undertaken by teachers, and by their students in assessing themselves” (Black &William, 2012, p. 2); moreover, these assessments are crucial for raising standards among the students – particularly, the low-achieving ones (Black &William, 2012, p. 17).
The researcher, therefore, views scaffolding in its traditional sense; as a result, the study may be considered a perfect overview of the concept of scaffolding in general.
The approach in question must also incorporate the understanding of the needs of secondary students. Indeed, it is crucial to realise that the students in question, both low- and high-achieving ones, need to get their priorities straight when it comes to reading.
As the existing records show, the perception of the very process of reading varies depending on not only the age and the personalities of the students, but also on their gender.
For instance, Brooks et al. (2012) outline that the key reason for male students to underachieve is that they tend to see reading solely as the source of obtaining information (p. 317).
Peer assessment, in its turn, will help students share their vision on what reading is and what goals it pursues. Though Brooks’s study is very specific, it still proves the efficacy of scaffolding as a teaching strategy.
Modern scaffolding is also viewed through the lens of the cognitive perspective (Kollar & Fischer 2009, p. 4).
By supervising three key activities that the students engage in, i.e., the task performance, the feedback provision, and the feedback reception, the teacher will be able to control the process of information acquisition among the low-achieving students and, thus, provide the environment, in which performance improvement can be fostered.
The importance of peer assessment is stressed immensely and defined as “highly significant” (Steer 2010, para 4) along with self-assessment by the Ofsted standards, along with the “Assessing Pupils’ Progress” (APP) programme in modern UK schools.
Ideas and Evidence: Where Theory Meets Practice
A recent TES report shows (Dunne et al. 2007, p. 76). In fact, researches have shown that scaffolding also enhances learning among teachers, therefore, affecting the quality of the teaching standards in a rather positive way (Kirkland & Dan Sutch 2009, p. 35).
Although the idea of upgrading teachers’ performance might seem alien to the idea of improving the performance of students, one must admit that the quality of the teaching process in general and the strategies chosen by teachers in particular shape learners’ attitude towards the subject to a considerable degree.
Therefore, it is essential that teachers should be able to motivate students; in other words, it is crucial that the learners should be given an opportunity to develop their skills in a proper environment and under the supervision of professionals, which teacher scaffolding can facilitate.
With regard to adopting the principle of scaffolding to the reading practice among low-achieving students, the effects of scaffolding on reading in particular need further research (Baleghizadeh & Mermar 2010, p. 52).
The results of the aforementioned studies seem quite valid, yet some of the research outcomes, including the effects of scaffolding on high achieving students, may be questioned and, therefore, needs further research.
A practical implementation of the scaffolding principles also shows that there is little to no actual difference between instructional scaffolding and formative assessment.
Heritage (2010) shows in her research that the descriptive feedback, which students receive after they complete their assignments can be viewed as instructional scaffolding, though, technically, it is identified as descriptive feedback provided by wither teachers or fellow students.
Further evaluation of the scaffolding approaches that are used in specific scenarios, especially the ones that help guide students through the art of Shakespeare, will show that the existing scaffolding guidelines are rather vague and need a certain adjustment when being tailored to a specific task and the needs of specific students.
Modern technologies need to be incorporated for a better implementation of the scaffolding techniques in the classroom environment.
Identifying the latter as the online peer-assessment learning (OPAL) settings (Zaragoza & Brigido-Corachan 2011, p. 287), Brigido-Corachan states that the above-mentioned approach encourages students to develop collaborative learning and creative critical thinking skills by creating the environment appropriate for the pragmatic analysis of students’ linguistic behaviour.
When it comes to the implementation of scaffolding techniques, particularly, in terms of allowing students learn about Shakespeare and his works, one must mention that the existing strategies suggest that peer assessment should be used in the course of group reading and retelling (‘AQA Year 11 Literature controlled assessment’ 2014, p. 23).
The existing reports also show that scaffolding as a technique is not an end in itself, and that additional methods must be utilised in order to enhance students’ motivation.
For example, a recent report on the effects of using scaffolding in teaching languages has shown that a range of students were not enthusiastic about learning, and the incorporation of the scaffolding techniques did not change the situation much: “Some students could, however, discuss the value of language learning” (Smith 2011, p. 2).
The link between theory and practice is, therefore, obvious. Despite having certain limitations and requiring corrections when being applied to a specific setting, the concept of a peer-assessment doubtlessly has an immense effect on the performance and, which is even more important, motivation of underachievers in secondary schools.
Used successfully in reading and writing classes, the phenomenon of scaffolding is most likely to assist low-achieving students in becoming active readers.
Apart from helping young learners in developing the skills that are required for successful reading, the method of scaffolding helps students become more engaged into the process and, therefore, start striving for a better performance.
As a result, the students’ score rises increasingly with the incorporation of scaffolding techniques into the curriculum.
Which is even more important, the specified approach does not create the premises for more advanced students to be held back – instead, it gives the latter an opportunity for engaging into the process of teaching by providing their fellow students with informed instructions on the issues that need to be corrected (Walqui 2006, p. 161).
The scaffolding approach is bound to have a major effect on the process of Shakespeare’s works understanding as well.
Seeing that the material in question is rather complicated, the discussion of the plays with fellow students will contribute to developing a better understanding of the ideas, key concepts and hidden innuendoes that are traditionally identified in Shakespeare’s works (Samana 2013, p. 341).
Ethics, Reliability and Validity of the Studies
Each of the researches that have been incorporated into this literature review has been carried out among study participants with an informed consent having been received prior to the start of the studies. Thus, the basic ethical principles have been recognised and followed closely when carrying out the researches in question.
As some of the research participants were under age when the researches were started, their parents’ permission had been obtained before the researches were carried out.
As far as the validity of the studies is concerned, it should be mentioned that each paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal or has been peer-reviewed. Therefore, the studies used in the literature review can be deemed as reliable.
Finally, the fact that most of the researches (except for those that were used to show the progress that has been made in scaffolding over the past few decades) were published in 2000–2014 shows that the papers in question are quite valid as references.
The studies in question allowed for understanding the principle of peer-assessment better, as well as define the changes that occurred to scaffolding over the course of teaching methods development.
Naturally, the study in question has its limitations, and the sample size is the most obvious one. No matter how accurate the results of the research may be, the fact that a limited amount of participants was chosen for the research shows that it cannot be deemed as entirely undisputable.
In addition, the cultural biases should be mentioned.
It would be wrong to claim that all students involved in the research have a similar level of proficiency in English; as they have different backgrounds, they also have different ways of relating to the process of reading in English, not to mention the fact that their reading purposes may differ greatly.
As a result, denying the limitations of the research is impossible.
The existing researches show that scaffolding and peer assessment affect the performance of low-achieving students impressively. Over the past few years, a range of studies regarding the effects of peer assessment have emerged, which allows for a comparison between the classic approach and the innovative methods.
By receiving instructions from their peers, low achievers are capable of viewing the issue from a different perspective and, thus, adapt the reading approach that works for them. However, some of the sources point at the threat of the high-achieving students reducing their level of reading and analysis to that of low achievers.
Nevertheless, an overview of the recent studies shows that, with the help of an adequate teaching strategy, an instructor may avoid the specified issue and at the same time facilitate the environment appropriate for successful peer assessment.
The approach, which the recent studies have proven to be especially gratifying in a reading class, peer assessment based on scaffolding clearly needs to be adopted for the students that have difficulties understanding Shakespeare’s works.
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