Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Peer Evaluations and the Language Classroom

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Peer Evaluations and the Language Classroom

Article excerpt

Abstract

The peer evaluation is an important component of the educational process, but it is not the best tool to evaluate instructional effectiveness. The peer evaluation, however, can provide a unique opportunity for educators to deepen their understanding of their respective practices, particularly in terms analyzing their classroom discourse.

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The peer evaluation is an important and integral part of the educational process. It is primary intended to evaluate teacher effectiveness in the classroom (Yon, Burhap & Kohut, 2002, Berstein, 2004). However, studies indicate that the peer evaluation is not the best indicator of effective instruction (Yon, Burnap & Kohut, 2002 and Odden, 2004). Researchers have found the peer evaluation does not support or promote instructional leadership (Goldstein & Noguera, 2006). Additionally, research reveals that the peer evaluation is too subjective and thus, is characterized as an ineffective observation instrument (Alicias, 2005, Peterson, 2004, Cohen, 2003). Bushman (2006) concludes that the traditional peer evaluation model does not help teachers become reflective and improve their practice, and Bloom's (2005) work reveals that the peer evaluation process does not support the professional development of teachers.

Given this, it is necessary to ask what exactly does the peer evaluation add to the assessment process that will be useful to the teachers in improving their practice. These evaluations are important for personnel purposes and perhaps for immediate short-term assessment; however, we need to find other ways to make the peer evaluation more meaningful and constructive to teachers. In its present form, as research shows, peer evaluations contribute very little to the professional growth of teachers in terms of analysis and reflection of classroom practices, and to the understanding of the pedagogy involved. However, if we make an effort to focus on what knowledge peer evaluations provide that will be constructive, we have something to think about, discuss and learn from this process.

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how a standard peer evaluation can be used as a professional development tool that helps teachers closely examine classroom discourse, reading classroom interactions, and at the same time, render a better picture of the teaching professional being observed. To begin, one must ask not only what teachers did in the classroom but also why. That is, what theories inform their practice? A formidable task but a necessary one if we are to offer valid assessment and insightful feedback and a true opportunity for reflection and professional growth. Critical analysis of classroom discourse would help teachers interpret what is said and done in classrooms, making overt the theories that shape practice. To illustrate the difference between the use of a peer evaluation form and a theory-based critique of the observed class, the results of each format will be described.

Standard Peer Evaluation

According to Bernstein (2004) the traditional peer evaluation is intended to support teacher growth and enhance teacher professionalism; however, it is not functioning as it should. Marshall (2005) and Kumrow & Dahlan (2002) state that there is a need to change the traditional peer evaluation process so that it allows more time for constructive dialogue between the reviewer and the teacher and activates the supervisory voice inside the teacher.

The peer evaluation instrument used here first asks the observer to briefly state the objective of the lesson; this is followed by six questions. The questions ask the observer to respond to various components. These include how the instructor organizes the material, demonstrates knowledge of the subject matter, motivates and encourages students, and influences the classroom atmosphere. The fifth question refers to the attainment of the lesson's objective and simply requires one response: yes, no or not sure. …

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