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ETAS Journal Editors' Choice Number 47

ETAS Journal Volume 36, Number 1 (Winter 2018), pp. 35-36

Helen Strong: Peer Feedback in Presentations Training

I have chosen this article primarily for selfish reasons. I was uncomfortable with the way peer feedback had been going in one of my groups and was looking for inspiration. After doing some research on the topic, I decided to try this method of Helen's. I found it took the subjectivism out of peer feedback and allowed students to focus on outcomes (e.g. "How I feel"). When we discussed this as a class, students felt the feedback was useful and relevant and gave the presenter something concrete to work on. As presentations become a more significant part of syllabuses, this idea has taken on greater relevance, especially with the growing need for people to be comfortable presenting online. We now include the same ideas in our peer observation programme. I truly recommend the ideas contained in Helen’s article.
Lee Schulter

Peer feedback in presentations training 

Helen Strong 

Abstract 

This article describes a non-threatening student-centred technique that encourages higher level, constructive feedback on students' performances from their peers. The technique helps to reduce the teacher's load, increase the quality of feedback to the students, and ultimately reinforce the feeling of mutual respect in the training room. 

Introduction 

• How many different techniques do you use for giving feedback to students on their presentations? 

• Are you the one primarily giving the feedback or do you encourage fellow students to do it? 

• If fellow students do it, do they tend to limit their feedback to comments such as "It was fine" or "He seemed quite nervous"? 

The technique described in this article essentially removes the teacher from the role of the 'expert' and treats the opinions of all learners as having equal weight. 

The teacher may offer their own additional comments afterwards, but learners are first encouraged to reflect on what they like or don't like about the 'performances' they observe. It follows three key steps, which are explained in the procedure below, using the example of presentations skills development as the performance act. 

Procedure 

1. Ask a stronger student to give a (prepared) presentation while the rest
of the class watches. The other students may make notes if they wish, but it's
not necessary. 

2. Write on the board: 

This is what I saw/heard. (fact) 

This is the effect it had on me. (effect) 

This is my advice to you in the future. (advice) 

3. Then give some feedback to the student who presented. For example: 

"You turned around to look at the large screen a number of times." (fact – this can be verified by viewing a recording of the presentation, if one was made) 

"The effect of that on me was that I couldn't hear you very well at those points, and also I didn't know whether to look at you or at the screen."
("This is the effect of this on me..."– note that it could have a different effect on someone else)

"My advice to you is that you face the audience as much as possible and only look at the screen on your laptop if you need to be reminded of what is on
your slides."

("This is how I would suggest you improve...", but this is only my opinion) 

4. Invite comments from the rest of the group. Ensure students focus on one key issue (such as looking at the screen in this instance) and that they use this three-step feedback approach. Also, make sure they stay on track and to the point. 

5. It is also imperative that they give feedback directly to the presenter and not through the teacher. If they look at you (the teacher) and say, "He did
this / She said that"
, stop them immediately and tell them to talk to the presenter (in fact, it's a good idea to sit at the back of the room to avoid the risk of this happening). 

6. Finally, during the feedback rounds, do NOT allow the presenter to justify why they did what they did (stop them if they try to do this and ask them simply to listen to the feedback). This is because when you are trying to "defend" yourself, it's likely you are not open to receiving constructive criticism. Tell the presenter to open their mind, listen attentively, and reserve judgment for later. They can always ignore the feedback if they wish, but they should thank the feedback-givers nonetheless and select the advice which is most helpful for them for the future. 

Caveats 

Ensure that only one point is covered in each three-step feedback round. In comparison to the example given in 3) above, this would be an ineffective use of this method: 

1. "You turned around to look at the large screen a number of times." (identified issue: interaction with the technology) 

2. "The effect it had on me was I couldn't read the slides because the text was too small."
(identified issue: font size on the slides, not interaction with the technology, as identified in Step 1) 

3. "My advice to you is that you use more visuals on your slides."
(identified issue: amount of text/images on slides, not interaction with the technology, as identified in Step 1 or font size as identified in Step 2) 

Compare this example of an effective use of this method: 

1. "You said 'erm' in almost
every sentence."

(identified issue: overuse of the word 'erm') 

2. "The effect it had on me was that I felt you were unsure of your topic."
(effect on me of the issue identified in Step 1) 

3. "My advice to you is that you rehearse your script more."
(my suggestion for how you can improve the issue identified in Step 1 and reduce the effect it had on me in Step 2) 

Here's one more example of an effective piece of feedback:
1. "You looked at the left side of the room for most of the time." (identified issue: eye contact) 

2. "The effect it had on me was that
I felt excluded because I'm sitting on your right."

(effect on me of the issue identified in Step 1) 

3. "My advice to you would be to make sure you regularly do a full eye sweep of the audience in future."
(my suggestion for how you can improve the issue identified in Step 1 and reduce the effect it had on me in Step 2) 

Options 

For groups of more than eight students, once you have demonstrated the method, you can send students off to work in groups of four or five to save time. Then simply monitor the groups, offering your own feedback if need be. When I used this method with undergraduates, they even recorded each other on their mobile phones and played back their recordings to verify the 'facts' they identified (such as the number of times someone said 'erm' or turned around to look at the screen). 

Benefits 

As mentioned in the introduction, firstly, peer feedback helps to reinforce the feeling of mutual respect in the classroom. This is because once students get used to giving and receiving peer feedback, it has a positive effect on the way they speak to each other since they get into the habit of wanting to help each other improve, and of not defending themselves rigorously when being criticized.

Secondly, it helps to develop students' real-life skills of giving and receiving feedback, not only in the context of presentations or other classroom interactions, but in out-of-class situations in which they may be called upon to give or receive feedback. It should be noted that receiving feedback is often just as difficult as giving it, and is a useful skill to learn. 

Thirdly, peer feedback allows the teacher to identify, from the feedback being
given, what areas of development the feedback-givers possibly need, for example, whether they are using adequately sensitive language while feeding back to their peers. If required, this language (and intercultural) point can then be followed up in future lessons. 

Conclusion 

Although this feedback method lends itself well to presentations skills training, it can also be used in any situation where the teacher wishes to encourage peer feedback on students' speaking skills, e.g. role-plays, class debates, etc. It's quite a simple technique (and that's the beauty of it), but it needs to be implemented accurately in order to be effective. I hope the stages I have outlined above help to explain how to
do this. If you have any questions (or if you try the method and it doesn't work for you), please feel free to drop me a line at helen@helenstrong.de

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Anglo Files, Issue 187, February 2018. Reprinted with permission from the Anglo Files editors. 

About the Author 

Based in Ingolstadt, Germany, Helen Strong is a Business English trainer and teacher trainer, with many years' experience in both corporate and academic environments. She regularly presents at international conferences, delivers online teacher training for The Consultants-E, and is Events Coordinator for IATEFL BESIG. helen@helenstrong.de 

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