Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ASKe's 1, 2, 3 strategy for understanding marking criteria

The ASKe group at Oxford Brookes University has been doing splendid work on assessment in recent years. Research publications by staff members – Margaret Price, Chris Rust, Jude Carroll and others – have contributed significantly to the body of knowledge underpinning teaching practice in higher education. The group works very hard to demonstrate how to apply the knowledge they have generated. So, for example, the group produces an ongoing series of 123 leaflets that highlight highly practical ways in which teaching staff can improve their students' learning. Each leaflet focuses on a piece of assessment-related research and clearly states how that research can be applied to teaching practice in three easy steps.

One of their strategies is outlined in a leaflet freely available from their website – Improve your students’ performance in 90 minutes. This strategy has emerged from research the group does into academic achievement standards.

The idea underpinning the strategy is that it’s not enough merely to tell students about standards (or to describe good student work). The teacher, according to the ASKe team, actually has to show students lots of examples, and to point out  – very explicitly – how good work differs from poor work, before students will begin to understand.  Putting it simply, if a teacher says to a student, “I gave you a Credit for this assignment because your argument wasn’t as strong as it needed to be and you didn’t support your argument with the right kinds of evidence”, the student probably doesn’t really understand what went wrong. The student is probably thinking that he did his best, and he did provide evidence, and he did argue the case.

So the ASKe team developed this strategy.

1. First, they say, work with first-year students before they hand in any summative work.
  • Provide students with two sample assignments – one good, one mediocre – on topics similar to (but not the same as) those to be examined in the course. Give them also the marking guidelines – rubrics, criteria, grade bands.
  • Ask students to mark the assignments, and to complete the marking sheets, using the rubrics and assessment criteria.
2. Second, a week after they have been given this task, run a 90-minute workshop.

At the workshop, get students working in groups to:
  • Compare the marks they each allocated and come up with a grade and rationale for that grade that the whole group agrees on.
  • Report their discussions to the whole class.
The tutor / lecturer / teacher then:
  • Compares the group rationales with the criteria.
  • Explains each criterion (using examples, and pointing out comparisons between the good assignment and the poor one).

3. Then, the groups re-visit their assessment, and re-mark the assignments now that they have a better idea of the meaning of the criteria before reporting to the whole class again.

4. The tutor / lecturer / teacher hands out copies of the assignments that he or she has marked and annotated.

5. And then, finally, three weeks later, when the students hand in their own first assignment, they also provide a complete marking sheet on which they have assessed their own work.

For more information on this technique and others developed by the Oxford Brookes ASKe team, visit their website.

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