During guided practice in my Algebra 1 and Geometry classroom, students are encouraged to help a shoulder partner with misunderstandings and to compare answers. However, solving a math problem focused on skills does not have the same time frame of opportunity for review and revisions as writing an essay or creating a presentation. In my Algebra 1 course, we have experimented with taking a “group test” immediately before the actual test. The group test is usually 8-12 questions and is completed in groups of 3-4 (depending on class attendance) compared to the “real test” consisting of 10-20 questions, which will be completed individually. The students are getting very good at discussing why one approach is better than another or helping peers to understand where their method went wrong. The group test goes into the grade-book out of a possible 10 points and the individual test goes into the grade-book out of a possible 100 points. We are still focusing on the individual performance, but their contribution to the group still counts and they know that those points can help to bring up the overall grade, if needed. The students really appreciate this review and discussion with their peers to finalize the ideas in their head before performing on the test.
The history department in my building uses Google Docs for peer revisions. It sounds simple, but it works for the intended purpose. Students are required to submit a rough draft of the paper as a Google Doc by the given deadline. The next class day, the teacher assigns partners for the paper based on topic, writing style, and/or level of writing. The students share their own Google Doc with the assigned partner allowing the partner the ability to only add comments. This gives one other peer in the class the opportunity to read the paper and highlight any strong points, flowing transitions, and overall positive areas as well as note awkward sentence structures, points where the message is unclear to that audience, or grammatical issues. The comments are off to the side so that the original author can consider making the change, but it is not part of the paper. It is still the author’s responsibility to determine how to incorporate the change or if the suggestion is necessary to improve the paper. The students were uncomfortable sharing their work with peers in the beginning of this process, but now they feel safe because they know that the partner is offering ways to help, even if it seems critical or harsh since they want that feedback before turning it in for a grade. The process could be adapted into a PBL unit by having students type their thoughts about how to solve the problem into a Google Doc and then having others comment with potential revisions or additions to make the solution more thorough.
The English department in my school started using Verso this year. The teacher will upload a sentence, paragraph, or an entire essay for all members of the class to read. The students can post their ideas anonymously while making the thinking visible so that others can build on that idea. Today’s generation of students appreciate the immediate feedback that is supplied. The teacher can view the actual student names, but the other students cannot so they know that the teacher is holding them accountable for any mean, inappropriate, or unhelpful comments. This could be very useful during a PBL unit to have the teacher post a starter thread for each group’s suggestions and plans for their solution to the driving question so that other class members can offer their opinions as well.