Taking steps to make beautiful work. ‘If it isn’t perfect, it isn’t finished’ Ron Berger

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In a world of targets and deadlines, getting it right first time is expected, whether it’s young people in the classroom producing an essay or adults in the workplace delivering a report on time.

But do those time pressures that mean that good enough is what we should expect and accept? Or should we be making the time and space to refine and improve the end product as part of the learning process?

And is it realistic to expect children and young people to know how to review and improve their own work? Or can we help them using structured approaches to feedback and improvement?

One of the most inspiring videos to be shared throughout the UFA team in the last couple of years is Austin’s Butterfly, an example from Ron Berger’s work of how to use peer critique with five year olds. The process delivers amazing results.

Watch Ron Berger’s video, The Story of Austin’s Butterfly’:

It clearly models a great way to improve a piece of work, using positive peer critique as a way to do that.

It’s no coincidence that it’s inspired by Berger’s experience working with wood as a carpenter, when the first attempt of a piece of work is never expected to be the final version. Instead the wood is shaped through carving, sanding and crafting to create the final piece, which is as good as it can be.

Peer critique is an approach that Berger has been developing for many years. From a UFA perspective we have taken it on board and use it in our young people’s programmes – especially Peer Tutoring, where we help Peer Tutors to understand how to best support their tutees.

But how can you implement peer critique into the classroom or even as a parent in the home or an employer in the workplace?

In the first instance it’s about making time, for the peer critique but also for training people in how to do it. Giving feedback which is kind but honest, helpful and specific is a skill which needs to be learnt and creating an environment of trust between peers is crucial.

Peer critique can be peer to peer, taking one piece of work and the whole group feeding back or operating a gallery technique where all work ready for critique is displayed.

It’s essential to provide a clearly defined framework for the critique, beginning with the author of the work self-critiquing before deciding they are ready for feedback, clarifying what they want help with.

Language needs to be positive and create a dialogue rather than just one person’s opinion or a series of statements. At UFA, Berger’s appraoch fits well, we try to be ‘Hard on content, soft on people’, using I statements. “I’m confused by this” is better feedback than “This is very confusing.” Giving specific examples of how a piece of work could be improved is also a key element of the process.

Practising peer critique changes the way we as learners think about learning – and it isn’t something you can squeeze in at the end of a lesson. It involves rethinking how the work is structured which is why it works well in project based learning or more substantial pieces of work, so feedback can be given throughout the process.

It is clear that the outcomes of using peer critique are well worth the investment. The standard of work increases in leaps and bounds, students become more engaged in their own learning and that of others and become far more empowered to influence their own learning journey.

We’ve seen the results it can deliver through our programmes, but even though the results can be staggering (if you haven’t already you really should watch that video) actually, the real value of peer critique is in the journey not the destination. How could it change how you learn?



If you want to find out more read Berger’s book An Ethic of Excellence (2003) Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 11.38.32








You might also be interested in David Didau’s blog about Peer Critique here:

And this from Tom Sherringham here:


If you’re interested in Peer Tutoring or any other of our programmes do get in touch to talk to one of our team.


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