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Seminars and smaller group tutorials can also be useful spaces in which to engage students in dialogue around assessment tasks and so help build students ‘assessment literacy’. The activities detailed below are all taken from the LLI’s Transitions Toolkit (www.le.ac.uk/transitions-toolkit).
Anonymous questions about a forthcoming assessment
Ask students to write (anonymously) questions regarding the assignment. Depending on the type of assignment it might be helpful to suggest specific themes for the questions. Anonymity will generally yield more questions and also help get over any fear students might have regarding the kinds questions they can raise. Once these questions have been submitted, you can use these as a basis for a broader discussion around the questions that have emerged. Where larger groups are concerned it might be helpful to group them into broader themes before discussing them. This exercise can also provide you with some insights into how students are making sense of the assignments and any instructions you provide.
Making sense of the assignment
Give students approximately 10-15 minutes to work with an assignment title/brief. Ask them to come up with a provisional plan for how they intend to approach the assignment. Invite them to think, in particular, about:
- What the assignment is really asking them to do (E.g. if it’s an essay, what are the key words or instructions embedded in the question/title?)
- What further research they will need to prioritise
- What a ‘good’ response would look like in terms of focus, use of evidence, presentation etc. (Access to assessment criteria would be helpful here!)
- What particular themes they intend to focus on and why
- If there are particular sections (e.g. in a more formal report), and what will each section will require the student to do in order to do the assignment well.
Depending on numbers and time available, students can be invited to share their responses with peers for feedback and/or with the tutor. Once again, this exercise might be revisited at appropriate points and used to help identify any questions students might have (see anonymous questions activity above).
What does good practice look like?
With reference to anonymised examples of student work (selected to demonstrate good practice at appropriate levels) ask students to analyse these examples and discuss what they reveal about what a good assignment looks like. Ask students to focus on the following types of questions:
- What features of the work enable us to recognise it as good?
- In what ways has evidence been used?
- How have arguments, ideas, summaries of evidence etc. been presented and articulated?
- In the case of written work, how has the assignment been structured (e.g. around a smaller number of key themes or arguments) and how have particular sections been presented (introductions, conclusions, transitions between different sections etc.)?
- Where preparations for presentations are concerned, although anonymity cannot be granted in the same way, more senior students may well be willing to permit recordings of their presentations to be used in order to help give newer students a better sense of good practice looks like.
Creating a weekly planner
Ask the students to identify, week-by-week, the tasks they will need to complete before submitting their assignment. Students can discuss this, with peers and/or the tutor, in order to help them evaluate their plans. If it’s a written assignment, encourage reflection on when the writing itself should start.
This exercise can be revisited at subsequent stages so that students can review their progress with the assignment.
Translating assessment criteria and/or rubrics
Pick out some of the key words and phrases in the relevant criteria and rubrics for a forthcoming assignment. Focus mainly, or even exclusively, on those that describe more successful student engagement. For each phrase, ask the students (working in pairs or small groups) to do the following:
- Describe in their own words what they believe phrase is getting at
- Describe how someone marking the assignment would recognise student work as meeting the criteria/standard of the rubric
- Raise at least one question in relation to the phrase
Ask the pairs/groups to report back and use the contributions to facilitate a general discussion and opportunity to clarify any areas of uncertainty or confusion.
Alternatively, you could invite the students themselves to identify those words and phrases they would most like to explore and unpack further.
Employing assessment criteria and/or rubrics
Perhaps the most common exercise of all – using prior examples, ask the students to grade, and provide feedback for, student work with reference to the relevant assessment criteria and marking rubrics.
Alternatively, students can engage in formative peer-assessment and feedback activities, using the criteria and rubrics in relation to the work of their peers. The Leicester Learning Institute can provide advice and examples to help you support and facilitate peer assessment activities.
Based on the relevant criteria and rubric for a forthcoming assignment, ask students (working in pairs or small groups) to come up with a checklist of things they should ensure they do. Students can share these and, time-permitting, create a composite version based on the best ideas from each group and any common themes that emerge from the exercise.
This checklist could also be referred back to in the comments and feedback for the assignment.
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