ELT Journal

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ELT Journal

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  • Introduction

    A case study of students' perceptions of peer assessment in Hong Kong jane Mok

    Since 200 7, the Education Bureau (ED B) in Hong Kong has been promoting a shift from traditional assessment of learning to assessment for learning, where classroom-based assessment is linked to teaching and learning, with students taking an active role in the assessment process. In particular, secondary school students are encouraged to assess their own and peers' oral English through self- and peer assessment. While peer assessment has been recognized as enhancing student learning if sensitively implemented, it is a new concept to many local students. This paper reports on a case study that investigated students' perceptions of the implementation of peer assessment in their English speaking classes. Through interview and classroom observation, the study reveals that despite the benefits that the participants perceived, they had serious concerns over the new assessment. What these 'averagejweak' students reported was sad but inspiring. Implications are identified for those who plan to conduct peer assessment.

    The centrality of the student's role in the implementation of peer assessment initiatives is obvious. Students are both the assessed and the assessors in peer assessment. Given that they play such a crucial role, it is important to find out how students perceive the peer assessment innovation. Such a focus would aim to take into account the voice of students, which is consistently ignored in local education reform, in order to facilitate educational change (Cook-Sather 2002). This case study investigated some Hong Kong junior secondary school students' perceptions of the implementation of peer assessment in their oral English classes. The students were aged between 12 and 14 and their level of English was lower-intermediate. Although the students interviewed reported perceived benefits of peer assessment, they all had personal concerns about it, stressing that they were 'not good enough to do so'. The case study, though exploratory, aimed to report faithfully the voices of these students.

    In the following section, background information about the education reform in Hong Kong and a brief review of peer assessment will be presented. After the methodology section, the reported perceptions of peer assessment will be detailed and discussed. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the implications of the study.

    E L T journal Volume Gs/J)uly 2011; doi:10.109Jfeltfccqo62 The Author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved. Advance Access publication November 10, 2010

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  • Background to the study Education reform in Hong Kong

    Peer assessment

    The teaching and learning approaches in Hong Kong classrooms have been widely criticized as examination-oriented and teacher-led, encouraging students to adopt primarily a passive and surface approach to learning (Biggs 1995). In 2001, an education reform was formally launched to improve the local education system. The reform, which covered curricula, admission systems, and assessment mechanisms, aimed to move away from the predominantly lower-order learning for exams towards developing students' capacity to deal with the rapid changes in the information age (EDB 2007a). In terms of assessment in schools, the education authorities have been strongly promoting a shift from assessment oflearning to assessment for learning, with enhancing student learning through formative feedback a primary focus of the assessment process (ED B 2oo7b). Specifically, secondary school students are increasingly expected to assess their own as well as their peers' oral English (Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority 2009) , which entails substantial changes in students' expectations, assessment knowledge, and skills.

    Peer assessment is reported to possess many potential benefits for both learners and assessors (Bostock 2ooo). For instance, if thoughtfully implemented, it can facilitate students' development of various learning and life skills, such as learner responsibility, metacognitive strategies, evaluation skills, and a deeper approach to learning. Although the benefits of peer assessment have, to some extent, been recognized, there are a number of challenges within the classroom practice of the assessment. Yuen (1998) reports that due to school teachers' uncertainty about the feasibility of peer assessment and a lack of guidelines and support for its implementation, peer assessment has rarely been implemented in Hong Kong schools. The teacher involved in this study indeed reiterated Yuen's observation stating that she obtained very little input on peer assessment in the teacher training she received and that the school she was teaching in had not been doing anything to help teachers implement the, to her as well as her students, 'new' assessment.

    Apart from teacher support, Dickinson and Carver (198o) and Holec (1981) point out that preparation is needed to help students to assume greater responsibility for their learning, which is essential in the successful implementation of peer assessment. For example,

    psychological preparation is done through discussions with the teacher ... [and] by understanding the significance of the approach and what he is required to do, the learner modifies his previous preconceptions and prejudices about language and learning. Methodology preparation involves the acquisition of the necessary knowledge and techniques that will enable the learner to fulfil his role. (Kollath 1996: 3n)

    However, Yuen (op.cit.) states that preparing students methodologically or psychologically for peer assessment or developing their oral skills through the assessment had not been the focus of local research.

    A case study of students' perceptions of peer assessment

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  • Methodology

    Research questions

    In this section, the research questions pursued in the study, the approach adopted, the background of the student participants, and the data collection and analysis methods used are presented.

    The case study aimed to address three specific research questions: What are the student participants' perceptions of the peer assessment form used in their English oral lesson?

    2 What are the student participants' concerns regarding the implementation of peer assessment in their junior secondary English speaking classes?

    3 What are the student participants' perceived benefits of peer assessment?

    Case study approach A case study approach was selected tocapturein detail what happened in the student participants' classrooms. As argued by Nisbet and Watt (1984), case studies can catch the unique features that may be lost in larger scale data. This approach allowed the research team to have a prolonged engagement with the students and teachers who had volunteered to participate in the study and to obtain a detailed account of what was seen and heard in their contexts. For reasons of space, this paper reports only part of the findings of the case study, that is the interview with Kylie, Veronica, Jerry, and Yale (pseudonyms).

    Student participants The school where the two boys, Jerry and Yale, and the two girls, Kylie and Veronica, were studying is one of the many schools in Hong Kong using Chinese as the medium of instruction. It was chosen as representative of ordinary secondary schools providing education to teenage students in its area. The genuine support for the study by the four students, all aged between 13 and 14 years old, and by their English language teacher was another important criterion for selecting the cases. Written consent was formally sought from the students, their teacher, and parents or guardians before the data were collected.

    Data collection and analysis

    Kylie, Veronica, Jerry, and Yale came from two classes in Secondary 2 that were considered 'average' in terms ofboth academic results and discipline. According to the school policy, the students who were weak in English in these two classes, that is to say, who were at an elementary level, were not allowed to have English lessons with their peers who were stronger in English. Instead, they joined together and had their lessons in a different venue. Their English language teacher stressed that the approximately 20 students in this 'averagejweak' group were neither confident in themselves nor their studies, adding that the voices of these students were mostly neglected in the school.

    Data were collected from this group mainly through classroom observations and interviews. To avoid the effects of overdoing peer assessment for research purposes, after the establishment phase, three classroom observations were scheduled over a six-month period to observe how peer assessment was conducted in Kylie, Veronica, Jerry, and Yale's English oral lessons. Their English language teacher was advised to integrate the peer assessment tasks into her regular school curriculum and to approach the research team for collaboration regarding lesson design and material

    Jane Mok

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  • Findings Perceptions of the peer assessment form

    development. All the observed lessons were video- and audiotaped to enable more effective data analysis.

    Immediately after the last observed lesson, Kylie, Veronica, Jerry, and Yale were invited by their teacher to