The Effects Of Peer Assessment On Speaking Proficiency Education Essay

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In the recent years peer-assessment, has been identified as a method in which students assess each other, work together and can come to see tests and activities not as punishments but as useful feedback. The term "peer-assessment'', in this study, is used to describe the process undertaken by students to assess the performance or contribution of their peers in relation to cooperative learning .The present study tries to investigate the effect of using such an approach on speaking proficiency of Intermediate English students at Guya Language Institute in Rasht in comparison with teacher-assessment. The research was done on thirteen intermediate female students who attended classes twice a week, one and a half hour each session. The researcher observed the class for 10 sessions and recorded her observations carefully for each session. She prepared pre- interview on the first session and after dividing the class into experimental and control group, the students in the first group were asked to work in pairs, assess each other when doing speaking activities, while the second group did these activities on their own and were assessed by the teacher. Again after 10 sessions of observing the class and recording the results, the researcher made another short interview with all the students to reevaluate their speaking proficiency. She found out that, students who worked in pairs, had a better performance in terms of fluency and pronunciation while the control group, who were doing the activities on their own and were assessed by the teacher, had some significant weakness in fluency and pronunciation. Thus, peer-assessment can have positive effect on speaking proficiency of learners in comparison to teacher-assessment.

Keywords: peer-assessment, teacher-assessment, cooperative learning

The Effects of Peer-assessment on Speaking

Recently, EFL teachers have used peer-assessment approach and they have their students assess each other in groups as a part of formative assessment which has provided students with opportunity to develop their own skills of reflection, critically assess their own performance and enhance the final product (Sommervel, 1993). Peer assessment also provides the opportunity for students to learn from their peers and they are mostly in favor of it (Cheng, W. and Warren, M. 1997). It has been identified as an arrangement in which individuals consider the amount, level, value, worth, quality or success of the products or outcomes of learning of peers of similar status. On the effect of peer-assessment on EFL students' language learning, Arevalo (2007), writes that "As students and teacher gradually become friends, the classroom become a place for sharing at the level of family or close community".

An investigation of peer-assessment in UK was conducted by Bloxham, and West (2004). The researchers found that with regard to the experience of assessing and being assessed by peers, two-thirds of students were positive while one-third expressed some disquiet. There are also some researches which focused on the impact of stress in peer-assessment (Pope, 2001). They believed that although peer-assessment environment is stressful, it leads to improved performance in formative and summative tasks. However, most of the researchers have found peer-assessment as an approach of lessening the stress in the classroom (Arevalo, 2007). In addition, Patri (2002) echoed the idea that peer-assessment and assessment involvement have vital pedagogical value. Most peer-assessment advocates proposed using it as a formative assessment tool rather than a summative one. More specifically, it is a supplementary assessment method for involving and empowering students rather than a substitution for teacher assessment. Since peer-assessment often takes place in the context of group work, Brown (2004) identified that the most evident characteristic of peer assessment is cooperative learning, which is advantageous to students.

Positive responses of students to peer-assessment of individual contribution to the team have also been reported (Cassidy, 2006). In fact, the reasons of such positive responses are that peer-assessment improves communication, participation, group skills, rewards work, easy marks and improving preparation. It has been argued that teacher-assessment is not sufficiently valid and that students are better placed to assess their own and each other's work (Race, 2001). The validity of peer-assessment has largely been evaluated by students in various studies. Most students find the assessment fair and improving their language proficiency. The students in peer-assessment learn to communicate in a friendly situation and remove the psychological barriers such as fear of losing face, shyness and being afraid of failure, which they may bring to the language acquisition environment. In fact, creating an enjoyable, comfortable, cooperative and friendly environment play an important role in this method which help students to improve their language proficiency.

The potential for peer-assessment to promote students' learning has a key place in the ideas which are associated with assessment for learning or assessment used for formative purposes. In classroom assessment for student learning, the assessment process and its results are turned into instructional interventions which are designed to increase, not just monitor, student learning, motivation and confidence (Stiggins, 2002). Also, peer-assessment is considered "uniquely valuable" because it motivates students to be more careful in the work they do and their learning is improved (Black, P & Harrison, C. 2001). In fact, some researchers believe that the ultimate aim of peer-assessment is not that students can give each other the grades. These are merely a means to an end. The real purpose is the identification of learning needs and improvement. A similar idea is captured in the simple phrase "learning by assessing" (Toppings, 1998).

On the other side, speaking has been considered as an important part of the language proficiency. It is divided into two elements. Speaking fluency and speaking accuracy. Speaking fluency may be defined as the ability to get across communicative intent without too much hesitation and too many pauses to cause barriers or a breakdown in communication (Crystal, 1977 & Nation, 1991). Accuracy refers to the use of correct forms where utterances do not contain errors affecting the phonological, syntactic, and semantic or discourse features of a language (Bryne, 1988).

An extensive body of research related to the study of peer-assessment exists and a number of reviews and analysis is available (see for example, Topping 1998, Goldfinch, 1994). Furthermore, there have been many researches about improving speaking proficiency in classrooms (Bygate, M., 1987 & Hammerly, H., 1991). Most peer-assessment researches are focused on two issues in a particular, first, the evaluating of students contribution to group assignments and second, the reliability and validity such types of assessment. Yet, students' improving language proficiency in speaking by peer-assessment has been little reported in the peer-assessment researches. In other words, while peer-assessment has been identified as a key element in formative assessment, there have been few researches showing the extent to which peer-assessment has effect on improving the different skills of language, such as speaking.

The researcher tries to investigate the effect of peer-assessment on speaking ability of English Intermediate students. Of course, for the researcher the grades were not the subject of matter. She, in other words, did not focus on the grades that whether they were higher or lower than the teacher's grades, as many researchers have already focused on. Instead, she just wanted to focus on the oral performance of the peers.

The present paper aims at showing that how effective, peer-assessment approach can be in improving English learners' ability of speaking in EFL classes both in accuracy and fluency. The researcher tries to explore the hypothesis that using peer-assessment method in EFL classes has a positive effect on students' speaking proficiency.

Method

1. Participants:

The researcher tried to select a sample which was representative as possible of the majority of intermediate students in Guya Institute in Rasht, in order to estimate the effect of peer-assessment on speaking proficiency. She selected only female students, to control the effect of gender. There were 13 students in the classroom who were between 15 to 18 years of age and came from Rasht. They all were studying English in the institute for about 3 years.

2. Procedure:

The teacher of the classroom which was selected was in friendship with the researcher and that was the reason for the selection of that class among other classes in the institute. After the selection of the sample, the researcher made coordination with the manager of the institute and the teacher to help her in doing her research. They allowed her to observe the class for 10 sessions and record her observations.

In the first session, the researcher asked the teacher to divide the class into two groups and then she explained about her research to the students. Her experimental and control groups were selected randomly by calling the students' names from the list which the teacher used for calling the roles. She explained about her research in Persian so that all the students could fully understand that what they were going to do. She told them that she was going to carry out a research on the effect of peer-assessment on students' speaking proficiency and asked them to cooperate with her. Then she talked about different activities they were going to do during those 10 sessions.

In the next step, she interviewed all of the students, each for five minutes, by asking some general questions about their family and how they feel about learning English. She recorded the interview using a mobile to evaluate the level of each student's accuracy and fluency in English. Table one shows the results she obtained after analyzing the interviews. She has assigned a letter for each student so that it would be easy for her to record the results.

As the table shows, the students' level of proficiency ranges from weak to very good. She has asterisked the letter of the students in her experimental group. Most of the students had an acceptable level of proficiency in linguistic abilities but they had a lot of difficulty in using them in their speech and this naturally had a lot of negative effects on their fluency in speaking.

Overall proficiency

Fluency

Accuracy

Thirteen students

Weak

Weak

good

Student A*

good

good

very good

Student B*

Weak

weak

weak

Student C

Good

good

good

Student D*

Good

very good

good

Student E

good

good

very good

Student F*

Weak

good

weak

Student G*

Good

very good

good

Student H

Good

very good

weak

Student I*

good

weak

good

Student J*

Good

very good

good

Student K

Weak

good

weak

Student L*

good

weak

good

Student M

Table 1. Sample students' level of proficiency in speaking English before the class starts. (The students in experimental group are asterisked.)

3. Instructional Context:

The researcher observed 10 sessions of 1.5 hour over a period of 2 months. In fact, the students were divided into two groups, experimental group and control group. Then the experimental group was divided into 4 groups of two who were going to do pair-work and peer-assess during the class and the members of the control group in which there were five students, were just observers in the classroom and she did not want them to cooperate in doing the tasks and they were going to be assessed by the teacher in doing the activities. All the instructions and explanations were given in Persian to make sure that everything was clear for all the students. The members of experimental group were received peer-assessment training. Since the researcher, wanted to focus only on the oral or speaking proficiency of the students who used peer-assessment technique, she told them that only their speaking proficiency will be graded by the peers which was about 20 percent of their overall final score. They were told that there are two main parts to the assessment process, that is, within-group and group-to-group peer- assessment. Group members were supposed to assess individuals' contributions within a group and each group evaluated other groups' oral proficiency. The researcher explained to the teacher, the instructional tasks, the activities and the method which she wanted to apply in the classroom and the teacher kindly cooperated with her.

Many activities were done in the classroom. But in terms of speaking task as within-group assessment, the experimental group played roles in practicing the conversational and dialogue tasks, simultaneously they assessed and checked each other's grammatical errors and pronunciation. In fact, role play is defined as a classroom activity which provides the opportunity to practice language through the actual roles they may need outside the classroom (Freeman, 1986). It is one of the communicative activities which give students an opportunity to practice communicating meaningfully in different roles (Freeman, 1986). Its mainly advantage is that it is highly motivating and gives students simple, direct and rapid feedback on their actions. In this research the topic of the role play was on the real life communication learned in the classroom. For example, asking for places in a city, talking about items on a supermarket, calling to cancel the meeting, calling to order food, inviting someone to go somewhere and etc. Also, as they took part in class discussion, the students of experimental group wrote down the errors of their peers as within-group assessment and they told those errors to them after the discussion. In fact, the teacher did not correct them at the time of their speaking; she just listened to them and wrote down their errors. However, the control group did not practice the conversations with partner and in case of dialogues they only read aloud them from the book. Furthermore, whenever they took part in the discussion in the class, they were simultaneously corrected by the teacher. The topics which they discussed were about an interesting place they had ever been, an interesting person they had met, what they would do when they become older, a frightening experience they had when they were young, something they liked to do in their free time, what they would do if they had one million dollar, a special talent they had and so on.

As group-to-group peer-assessment, in conversational practices, when each group rehearsed the conversations and dialogues together, they were supposed to play them in front of other students and the group was going to be graded by other experimental groups in terms of proficiency. So each group tried their best to get a high grade and this made them to effort more. The grading scale included (very weak, weak, good, very good, excellent). Students of experimental group spoke a lot in English and they took part in the discussion and were corrected and assessed by their peers and as it has been mentioned before, in conversational practices, they were assessed by other groups.

Another activity which they were supposed to do was to deliver lecture in the class. Each session, one of the members of the control group and one group of the experimental groups had to be ready for the lecture. The members of control group were supposed to deliver it alone and they were graded by the teacher but the members of the experimental group delivered lecture two by two and they were graded by other experimental groups. The subjects of the lectures were based on the ideals of the students and in fact, did not matter to the researcher, because, the purpose was to improve the speaking ability of the students. In fact, at the end of each session they themselves chose who would be the next session's lecturers.

When doing speaking practices in pairs, the teacher went to the experimental group from time to time to make sure that they were talking in English and using the correct form of the sentences. They were really busy in practicing that they did not realize she was watching them. The researcher was also observing them, and recording her observations so that she could analyze them easily at the end of her research. During the first two sessions, experimental group did not do the activities as actively as she expected, but little by little, they became more active. What she wanted to do was to compare the control group's speaking proficiency with that of experimental group.

Results

After the 8th session was over, the researcher asked the students in the experimental group to stay in the class for 10 minutes to talk about their feelings. All of them said that they were enjoying the experience and that they feel that they are progressing. They said that this class gave them more opportunity to work together and state their opinions and helped to correct their mistakes and errors. They said it was a new and interesting experience which gave them enough self-confidence to speak in English without being afraid of making mistakes. When they saw that their performance was assessed by their classmates and not the teacher, they felt more relaxed and this helped them to put their passive knowledge into practice. This really motivated them to improve their speaking abilities and succeed in using what they have learnt in real contexts.

They said When assessing other groups' presentation, they could identify their own weaknesses. Now they knew better how to attract their peers' attention. They said they would rehearse before the lectures a lot more than before and through seeing others' presentations; they could identify their strengths and weaknesses. They believed, peer-assessment improved their speaking, for example, reciting and memorizing the scripts and when they worked hard to memorize the scripts, they learned some English. When they were asked whether peer-assessment improved their oral presentation skills, two of them said they dared not to speak before. One of them said she came to like peer-assessment more because the teacher couldn't see their preparations. Another one said that comments and suggestions were helpful to improve her performance in the future. The interesting thing was that the members of the control group liked it too and they showed that they were interested in using peer-assessment technique in the classroom.

During the last two sessions, the researcher noticed that the students tried to use more complicated forms of sentences and some of them used some interesting idioms such as " it's up to you", "let me take a look at it", "we're done", " take it easy" when they were working with their peers. After the end of 10th session, she told the students that they were going to have another five-minute interview, because she wanted to evaluate their progress. They kindly accepted it and cooperated with her so that she could finish her research on time.

Just like the first interview which was carried out in the first step, she had a five-minute interview with each of the students and recorded the interviews so as not to miss any important point. This time she proposed some open-ended questions asking students' opinions about learning English, the season they liked best and why, how was the class they just experienced, etc. She noticed that the performance of almost all of the students had changed and the students in the experimental group showed a significant progress.

Table two shows students' performance in speaking after the end of the 10th session which reveals that how effective peer-assessment was in students' accuracy and fluency in speaking. Of course researcher had specific criteria for assessing accuracy and fluency in speaking. In other words, the speakers who were high in accuracy and in fluency had their own specific features. According to her, students who had a high accuracy were really worried about making errors or mistakes. They thought about everything they said carefully. When they started to say something and then they realized that they have made a mistake, they stopped and corrected that mistake, maybe having been returning to the beginning of the sentence. They paused between each word, contemplating what the right word or phrase was before they said it. And the students who had high fluency, according to the researcher were the speakers who did not paid attention to their errors. They only had the idea what they wanted to communicate and they said it by whatever words or language. They made frequent mistakes, sometimes in every sentence. Their grammar was a mixture of English and their native language.

Overall proficiency

Fluency

Accuracy

Thirteen students

very good

very good

Good

Student A*

Very good

very good

Very good

Student B*

Weak

weak

weak

Student C

very good

good

very good

Student D*

Good

very good

Good

Student E

Very good

excellent

very good

Student F*

good

good

good

Student G*

Good

very good

Good

Student H

Excellent

very good

Excellent

Student I*

Very good

Very good

good

Student J*

Good

very good

Good

Student K

very good

very good

Good

Student L*

good

weak

good

Student M

Table 2. Sample students' level of proficiency in speaking English after the end of the 10th session

Name

overall proficiency in pre- interview

Overall proficiency in post-interview

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Student A*

weak

Very good

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

StudentB*

good

Very good

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Student C

weak

weak

*

*

A

*

A

*

*

*

A

*

Student D*

good

Very good

*

*

*

*

*

A

*

*

*

*

Student E

good

good

*

A

*

*

*

*

A

*

*

*

Student F*

good

Very good

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Student G*

weak

good

*

*

*

*

A

*

*

*

*

*

Student H

good

good

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Student I*

good

excellent

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Student J*

good

Very good

*

*

A

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Student K

good

good

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Student L*

weak

Very good

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Student M

good

good

A

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Table 3. shows the comparison of the students' proficiency in pre-interview and post-interview and presence status during the course.

The last stage of the research was analyzing the interviews and recording the results. After she was done with the analysis, she recognized that all the students in the experimental group performed very well and their performance improved significantly in terms of accuracy and fluency in English .The members of the control group performed rather poorly and in fact their speaking proficiency did not change at all.

Overall, using peer-assessment of process in EFL classes in which students are assessed by their peers gave students more opportunity to state their ideas and helped them to improve their speaking abilities. The result of the research showed that using peer-assessment approach in an EFL class, has a positive effect on lessening the anxiety of the students, because when the teacher plays the role of facilitator and cooperator in the class, the students feel more comfortable and relaxed, especially when they think they are assessed and checked by their peers, not the teacher. It was also revealed that such an approach improves learners' ability to express them without being afraid of being assessed by the teacher.

When students do the activities in groups, not only can they assess each other but also they can learn from each other and this learning from the group is very important in peer-assessment method. The results showed that when students do the activities, help each other and assess in the target language, they, in fact, use the language in authentic contexts and this will help their speaking ability to be improved.

In his 2007 article, C. M. Arevaleno, regards peer-assessment as a useful tool to:

Encourage students' involvement in the learning and evaluation processes as active.

Motivate students while giving them a chance to be the center of the class and share their topic of interest with the rest-including the teacher.

Create a real communicative assessment.

Consolidate social relationships in the class as well as team-working skills.

Help and reinforce teacher's assessment since "both parties benefit from discussing and performing assessment together".

Discussion

The researcher original hypothesis was supported, based on the results which she found in the research. Despite the fact that her research had its own limitations, it revealed some interesting facts. The students of the classroom on which she studied all were interested in peer-assessment approach. Since, in the past, they were in classes, in which the teacher was in the authority, they found it interesting when the teacher was not the person who assessed their speaking. When they see that the teacher is like one of their friends in the class who does not assess them, they lose their anxiety, get more self-confidence, express themselves and ask questions without any fear of being ashamed, thus this will help them improve their language speaking ability.

Peer-assessment has many advantages for students as giving a sense of ownership of the assessment process, improving motivation, encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning, developing them as autonomous learners encouraging deep rather than surface learning. However, this research with all its limitations, focused on the peer-assessment to find out its positive effect on speaking proficiency in comparison to teacher-assessment method. In peer-assessment not only do students cooperate with each other and do the activities in groups, but also they assess each other's performance and they themselves are the evaluators of each others. It is suggested that peer-assessment is a very efficient method for who have much anxiety of the grades which they receive by the teacher.

If peer-assessment is implemented, students can come to see presentations and lectures not as punishment but as useful feedbacks. Many researches show that by using peer-assessment, classmates can work together and it can create cooperation atmosphere for students instead of one where students compete for grades. The researcher does not claim that peer-assessment has only advantages. Of course, like many other methods, it has its own disadvantages too. However, considering all the advantages and disadvantages in mind, this paper could somehow prove that one of the advantages of peer-assessment can be its positive effect on speaking proficiency.

Acknowledgements

The researcher would like to acknowledge the teacher and the thirteen students who kindly cooperated with her and helped her to conduct the present research.

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