As a well established practice in the teaching community, observation has been used as both an evaluative measure and, more increasingly, a form of professional development aimed at improving teaching and learning practices.
In line with how we do peer observations and develop critical friendships, I had cause to wonder whether the same principles of observation could be applied to peer observations between students. In essence could students observing students lead to:
- students observing each other’s learning in order to learn from one another;
- a focus on students’ individual needs and an opportunity to learn from others’ learning preferences and offer constructive feedback to peers;
- the sharing of learning habits and building awareness about the impact of own learning preferences in order to affect change. (Based on ‘How to Guide’ Peer Observation for teachers)
As a starting point, our learning hub (advisory) uses a critical friendship model. Using a critical friend model enabled students to develop a working relationship with a peer and students were comfortable with supporting one another and providing feedback/feedforward.
I developed the student peer observation tool from our HPSS Critical Friend Observation Tool. The tool allows students to determine the area of focus and Hobsonville Habits (learning dispositions) they might like to focus, connected to their learning. This might include other aspects of their learning they need support in developing. Students were encouraged to consider feedback from across their learning and suggestions from their critical friend.
As a part of the observation setup, students agreed on a time for the observation and the duration. Once the terms of the observation had been agreed upon, and the observation had taken place, a follow up meeting took place for the students to consider the feedback and work on what their next steps might be.
Feedback to their peers was occasionally ‘brutally’ honest and, on the surface, was readily received. In some cases, the feedback provided would have been negatively received had it been delivered by a teacher/adult (as per the students). As a side note, we had to discuss the ‘etiquette’ of observations including letting the teacher know why they were there and sitting quietly at the back (one student, when asked, announced to the entire class that they were their to observe …!)
As a result students had the opportunity to:
- independently selecte their focus areas and developed goals for improvement
- receive direct feedback about their learning from a peer
- demonstrate that they were able to reflect on how their own learning habits might be similar or need improvement
- to identify things they could improve on
- became more aware about their learning preferences
- begin to explore how they might affect some changes in their learning.
Students responded positively and demonstrated a high level of maturity when conducting observations.