Peer Feedback: Not the Sandwich, but Sunny-Side-Up, Please

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Peer feedback (otherwise known as peer assessment) can be useful to both the receiver and the giver of the feedback as long as the feedback is meaningful. For this to happen, peer feedback needs to be constructive; it should start with a positive observation before pointing to an area or areas for improvement; and it should include a suggestion on how to improve, which means that the focus needs to be procedural. This is not the case in the sandwich feedback approach.

The Sandwich Approach to Feedback

The sandwich approach, widely used in business communications, is a feedback technique meant to underscore a fault in the work of the person receiving the feedback (the receiver). It begins with a positive observation before addressing the real issue; in this case, the giver’s appraisal of the receiver’s failure to perform a task or inability to meet the desired outcome(s). This feedback then cycles back to a positive comment as a way to “soften the blow” (Cohn, 2017). For it to work, the receiver is supposed to know that between the pleasantries lies the negative appraisal. The problem with this, as Cohn (2017) further explains, is that this type of feedback can actually cause the receiver to ultimately distrust positive feedback altogether as it comes to represent a prelude to a negative outcome (e.g., being fired, demoted or rejected), which is why businesses are being advised to steer away from using it (Cohn, 2017; Schwarz, 2013).

It therefore makes sense not to use the sandwich model in the classroom since the objective of feedback should not be to follow this paradoxical “business etiquette” (Boud & Molloy, 2013).

The sandwich approach is also flawed from a pedagogical standpoint. With this approach:

  • The critique can feel minor compared to everything else
  • There is no scaffolding for learning
  • There is limited ability to effectively exchange knowledge

The following example highlights the weakness of the sandwich feedback:

“I really like the topic you chose. However, you could have added more examples. Nevertheless, you tried your best and I enjoyed reading your work!”

Meaningful Peer Feedback: Sunny Side Up

Meaningful peer-feedback should offer solutions, what I call “Sunny Side Up Feedback.” It begins with highlighting a strength before addressing an area for improvement, and then ending with a suggestion or solution for future improvement. This type of feedback is meant to help students to improve and develop autonomy. It is therefore procedural, and it requires the giver’s careful observation of the material being assessed.

Below is an example of sunny side up peer-feedback:

“I really like the topic you chose. However, you could have added more examples in your second paragraph. For example, you mentioned that living in the suburbs has many advantages, but you don’t list or explain what these advantages are. I think this detail is needed to give your paragraph the right amount of support.”

Ingredients for Successful Sunny Side Up Peer-Feedback

Overall, during peer-feedback, a sunny side up approach should:

  1. Focus on the learning outcome(s) being taught and assessed;
  2. Address a strength before pointing to an area in need of improvement;
  3. Include a suggestion for improvement that explains the steps to take;
  4. Help teachers assess whether the giver of feedback has achieved some degree of mastery.

Assessing Peer Feedback

From the teacher’s perspective, peer feedback should help assess the giver —not only the receiver. This means that any misconceptions arising from peer-feedback should be quickly addressed, clarified, and corrected by the teacher to avoid confusion.

Conclusion

All in all, peer feedback needs to be insightful, specific, reliable, and self-explanatory, which is why it shouldn’t mimic the sandwich feedback approach. Instead, peer feedback should offer a light at the end of the tunnel, a solution or suggestion for improvement. The “sunny side up feedback” meets these criteria. It is also unbiased because it focuses on providing support based on content while building students’ confidence and scaffolding learner autonomy.

What is your experience with peer feedback?

References

Boud, D., & Molloy, E. (2013). Rethinking models of feedback for learning: The challenge of design. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(6), 698-712. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2012.691462

Cohn, A. (2017, June 20). Please stop using the feedback sandwich. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisacohn/2017/06/20/please-stop-using-the-feedback-sandwich/amp/

Schwarz, R. (2013, April 19). The “sandwich approach” undermines your feedback. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/amp/2013/04/the-sandwich-approach-undermin

POST COMMENT 8

8 thoughts on “Peer Feedback: Not the Sandwich, but Sunny-Side-Up, Please”

  1. I had to teach that as part of the curriculum for a community college EAP course designed for international students. I always thought this sandwich approach was a bit lame. It was interesting to read your article.

    1. Glad you found it useful, Heidi! And I agree, Good feedback should offer opportunities for improvement; if it doesn’t, what’s the point?

      Best,

      Cecilia

  2. Thanks for your ideas. I’m a big believer in the power of peer and self assessment. This is an interesting new take on it.

    1. Thank you, Suzanne! I’ve found that students appreciate feedback that helps them to improve!

      Cheers,

      Cecilia

  3. Thanks for a very interesting perspective. I have big problems dealing with peer feedback when it comes to lower level learners. Wish to have some suggestions.

    1. Hello Sridatt,

      My suggestion would be to keep it simple! What have you tried with your beginners? Perhaps you could start with what has worked and what hasn’t. Feedback is part dependent on what students “can do” and part on what they know, have learned ,and are able to express (procedural vs declarative knowledge kind of thing). I tend to model feedback from the perspective of the student, so perhaps framing the feedback from what students “can do” and what had worked could be a good start in your case. Colour coding feedback could also work and students can work in groups to fix errors (based on colour). Any thoughts?

      Best,

      Cecilia

      1. Hi Cecilia:
        Thanks so much for considering this insightful reply. As usual, I will be trying it out.
        Much appreciated.
        Regards
        Sridatt

        1. Hi Sridatt,
          As teachers, we keep trying new methodologies and for good reasons! Some old methods still work, while others need refreshing and reinventing!
          Please let me (and readers) know the results of your next feedback cycle!
          Best,
          Cecilia

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