Des Hylton, BHP Teacher
As many of you lead up to the Little Big History (LBH) projects or find yourselves neck-deep in them, you might be feeling overwhelmed with questions. Students are often desperate for affirmation and feedback on the direction they’re taking their multi-modal projects. What a great problem to have! Your students care! But as every teacher knows, you never feel like you have enough time to give formative feedback to everyone. Enter student feedback.
Peer-to-peer feedback is an essential feedback loop, especially when it comes to activities such as the LBH project. True to one of the underlining philosophies of Big History—the teacher as facilitator and lead learner—it encourages distribution of responsibility, and effectively creates many more “teachers” in the classroom. It also provides students opportunities to develop their “soft” skills and other qualities that graduates are reportedly often lacking, such as empathy and the ability to collaborate.
Peer-to-peer feedback is more likely to be successful when students value the process and understand what good feedback can look like. I love to use the following video as a provocation to build the foundation for these components by showing Austin’s Butterfly Story. As a class, we watch Austin’s story and then discuss the clip and come to the consensus that we all have the capability to give good feedback, and that creating multiple drafts is a powerful process. And—although I haven’t tried this yet—I think this clip would also be useful for discussing revisions of Investigations essays in tandem with BHP Score reports.
To help students develop their ability to give great feedback to each other, consider using the “Be Kind, Specific, and Helpful” protocol, which dictates that all feedback comments, whether oral or written, must meet those criteria.
Being kind means students should be soft on the person although hard on the content. We all have feelings! Encourage students to reflect on what they liked (including reasoning) or recognize their peer’s effort.
Unkind feedback: “You’ve done a really bad job of linking your artefact (headphones) to anything else.”
Kind feedback: “I really like that you are beginning to link your artefact (headphones) to emotions.”
Being specific with their feedback will help students avoid generic comments, ones don’t provide enough information and often frustrate the receiver, leaving them confused about what they should focus on developing.
Unspecific feedback: “Include more ideas, write more, more pictures.”
Specific feedback: “Perhaps you could explore how your artefact (the brain) links to the early universe?”
Helpful feedback must be future-focused and offer possibilities. This gives students the opportunity to utilize the assessment criteria and rubric and use it formatively to further develop their work.
Unhelpful feedback: “You should have stated sources.”
Helpful feedback: “Perhaps next time, you could include at least two more sources providing evidence to support your ideas on the impact the Industrial Revolution had on the rifle.”
Giving kind, specific, and helpful feedback is a skill, so building it into your teaching and learning routines is essential if students are to really benefit from it. Some of the ways I’ve done this are by getting students to assess my teacher feedback to determine if it was kind, specific, and helpful (yep, I’ve been called out myself a few times!), as well as by having them give peer feedback on peer feedback! As students become more confident and understand the protocol, you might find they gradually begin to rely less on your feedback and seek that of their peers. This is the ultimate affirmation that they value the process, are developing the soft skills essential for our contemporary societies, and that you are staying true to the role as a facilitative Big History teacher.
What are some of the ways you encourage and utilize peer-to-peer feedback in your BHP classroom? Join me in a discussion about this very topic in the BHP Online Community.
About the author: Des Hylton teaches Big History in an independent preparatory-through-twelfth-grade school in Australia, but he’s a science teacher by trade. At his school, BHP is taught as part of the history/geography curriculum over two years to Year 7 and 8 students. Des teaches the class in five 50-minute sessions per two weeks. His average class size is 28.