Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sadler's Technique for Teaching Learners to Notice

Royce Sadler is an amazing teacher educator, who has spent many years thinking about ways to get students to understand quality, by working it out for themselves and calibrating their standard against the measure used by the teacher.

He developed a technique that he says develops students’ ability to:
  • Make holistic, realistic, honest judgments that are focused exclusively on the quality of academic work
  • Notice aspects of the work that are germane to the judgment and pass over aspects that are routine, expected, and unworthy of special mention
  • Construct sound rationales for their judgments
The purpose of this strategy is to create students as “budding assessors” not as constructors of feedback for peers or consumers of feedback from peers – although he reports that students did find the comments on their work from their peers to be very useful.

Here is how he does it.

  1. Each student is asked to create a short paper (300 words) in response to a specified academic task. The task is designed so that high quality responses require “substantial cognitive activity and engagement” to address a “novel and previously unseen issue”. Students need to distil and integrate material from different sources; it would not be easy to create the response texts by reproducing, adapting or compiling content from other sources. Sadler also completes the task, creating the best possible paper he can. Clearly, some considerable thought needs to go into the construction of the task.
  2. Each student brings three copies of their paper to a class gathering. One set of the papers is shuffled and distributed, one to each student. Sadler’s paper is amongst those that are distributed.
  3. Students read and evaluate the paper they have been allocated. In this activity, they are expected to make a judgment about overall quality. (Sadler’s strategy here is to get students to recognize quality when they see it.) Students represent their judgment of overall quality on a scale. Sadler asks them to place an X in a line segment (120mm long) that has no scale points on it. The left hand side of the line represents Low Quality, and the right hand side represents High Quality. In this way, students are required to commit to their judgment, but are not asked to allocate standard marks or grades to the papers.
  4. Students justify their appraisal by writing 70 words, in which they avoid praise or criticism and stick to the quality and properties of the work itself. They are expected to invoke whatever criteria are necessary to explain the judgment.
  5. Finally, each student writes some advice to the author of the paper, outlining ways in which the work could be improved or a future similar work made better.
  6. In later iterations of this task, once students are experienced with the first three stages of the process, Sadler asks them to comment on how well the paper addressed the issue.
  7. If there is time, the exercise is repeated more than once (hence the need for students to bring three copies of their papers to class).
Sadler reports that students not only get better at the task, they get faster.

For more information:
Keep an eye out for Sadler's chapter in a forthcoming book by Merry et al: Sadler, D.R. (forthcoming). Opening up feedback: teaching learners to see. In Merry, S., Price, M., Carless, D., & Taras, M. (Eds.) Reconceptualising feedback in higher education. London: Routledge.

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