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Why You Should Have Students Grade Each Other's Work

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It might look like pawning off work on students, but in reality, having students grade each other's assignments in class can have huge educational--and social--benefits.

A Great Idea, or A Can of Worms?

We all remember doing assignments in school, then hearing the teacher say, 'Trade papers with the person next to you.' We'd swap worksheets, look down at our partner's answers, and provide corrections as the teacher read off the answers. We'd usually mimic our teachers' style of marking right and wrong answers, and then we'd tally it up and write their final score at the top of the page. Then we'd hand back their papers and take our own, checking how we'd done with our own work.

While there is some controversy surrounding the subject of allowing students to grade each other's work, there are certain benefits this practice offers the whole classroom that should not be overlooked or ignored when considering this option.

Certainly, there are potential downfalls to this model, but what if we could take these negative aspects and turn them into growth opportunities? The very nature of learning is to turn failures into successes, weaknesses into strengths, and bad situations into positive moments.

By setting the stage for student-driven grading, an effective teacher can take any problematic areas in this system and turn them to their advantage.

Students are happy to learn good practices from engaging teachers

Benefits of Student-Graded Assignments

What of the many good points of letting students participate in the grading process? Just a few of the great results you could see in your classroom are:

  • Motivation: Knowing you'll be judged by your fellow classmates will provide an extra boost of motivation to students, encouraging them to put their best effort into their work.
  • Increased Learning: Getting to see, and hopefully discuss, another student's take on and understanding of the subject can be hugely beneficial to students, as they can expand their horizons in a natural and engaging way.
  • Humility & Compassion: This ties in with the earlier idea of turning possible downsides into great opportunity. Students who are guided correctly can use this exercise to recognize that we don't always have the answers--sometimes, they will make errors, sometimes their classmates will. Provided the framework for what to say and how to react to incorrect answers, students can be encouraging and helpful, which will make the whole classroom feel more secure, engaged, and comfortable with themselves, their classmates, and the subject matter.

It also helps teachers by allowing educators to manage larger classrooms more easily, get feedback and insight from students that they might have missed otherwise, and engage their students in exciting new ways.

And of course, the teacher always remains in control; the final grade that gets recorded is up to you, so there's no risk of bullying or misunderstandings leading to unfair scoring for students.

Young students watching their teachers closely

Concerns Regarding Student-Graded Assignments

There are, of course, some concerns that should be addressed before using this method in your classroom, such as:

  • Protecting student privacy
  • Teasing of children with low scores
  • Lowered self-esteem from having the class potentially become aware of learning deficiencies or educational struggles

This matter was even weighed in on by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002, where they ruled that, 'students grading the papers of other students and even calling out the scores is not a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).'

But regardless of what the courts say, it is important for educators to ensure that, in their classroom, things are handled appropriately. These concerns are legitimate, and should be considered before implementing, and prepared for by teachers. Luckily, there are some simple tactics you can employ to ensure that your class has a positive and enriching experience

How to Use This Technique to Your Advantage

In order to reap the many benefits of this technique, set the stage for this process by discussing it with your class beforehand. This conversation will vary depending on what grade you're teaching, but the key points to cover would be:

  • Reminders that letter/percentage grades are just a way of measuring progress, not individual worth or overall capability. We're all here to learn--even the teachers!--so there's no need to feel badly about missed questions.
  • Provide students with a loose script for how to discuss both correct and incorrect answers. If students don't know what to say, they might say something without thinking, and it could end up being hurtful. With parameters laid out for them and examples given, they'll know how to structure their own comments to be constructive and positive.
  • Make clear what comments are not acceptable, and also make clear the consequences that will befall any students who use this practice to belittle or shame a fellow classmate.

It's extremely helpful if you already practice these attitudes yourself, and model them regularly for your students. Students, even older students, tend to mimic authority figures, especially if they aren't accustomed to the activity they're participating in. Your teaching methods will be mirrored in your students, as they'll use you as a guide for how they should conduct themselves when grading papers.

Students will benefit greatly form this practice

Things to Remember When Implementing This Model In Your Classroom

Regardless of what veteran teachers, studies, or even the Supreme Court says, the most important thing is that you feel comfortable with the practices used in your classroom. Only you can determine if your students are mentally and emotionally ready to participate in grading each other's work. Some classrooms might be ready for this now; others might need to be worked up to this point. Others still might not benefit from this technique, but with the proper preparation and planning, this can be a successful and positive experience for teachers and students alike.

By Elena Jacob
March 2017
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