When a teacher sets a writing task what is she/he asking for? The answer is not always obvious – even to the teacher her- or himself. This is often particularly the case when a task has not been set before – the teacher doesn’t know what a good response to their task will be until they have seen what the students produced. To some extent, then, disappointing responses to a writing task are a reflection of some difficulty in communicating the task itself.
We’ve worked on these issues in a number of ways
· Talking about judgments – work around assessment that is an alternative to developing so-called explicit assessment criteria and that involves teachers and students in exploring the qualities they notice and value in actual written assignments
· A heuristic for unpacking an assignment. A small research project focusing on argument in a number of disciplines led us to compile a series of pointers/questions that can be used to interrogate the kinds of thinking and knowledge expected in an assignment (or, to take the bigger picture, in a module or programme). See our page on eliciting non-critical and critical approaches.
· Writing a good Short Answer Question (SAQ) – an account of how we worked with colleagues in the School of Medicine and Dentistry to better understand what is required in responding to Short Answer Questions. Links to an on-line self-access resource.
· Creating a resource for lab report writing. Not all first year students in the School of Engineering and Materials Science have had experience of writing lab reports, yet this genre is arguably the basis for much the writing they will go on to do in their degree programmes. This resource was co-developed with disciplinary staff as a simple introduction to the basic moves in report writing.
· You might also find this activity on Unpacking claims in titles (pdf)(also located within our section on developing argument) useful both for helping students work out what they can or should focus on in response to a question, and considering what you are asking for and expecting when you set an assignment.
Our feedback section offers some suggestions as to how the response to assessment can be made more fruitful and effective, as well as how feedback can be a more holistic aspect of a module.