Only Assess?

The comments below were made by an academic reflecting on common practice in a university department. They bring to light some of the problems that can surround the everyday practice and assessment of writing in higher education:

Our students do not have enough opportunities for writing and nearly all of their writing is formally assessed. This can restrict the likelihood of experimentation and creative risk-taking resulting in ‘safe’ but more uniform work. Our current assessment system allows students very little opportunity to respond to and act on criticism of their written work. There is no real opportunity for revision.

An important question must be: who are we really writing the feedback sheets for? the second marker? the external examiner? If students only receive assessment at the very end of the course then they are unable to obtain much direct benefit from lecturers’ comments.

Most of what students write gets read by a teacher. But why? One reason tends to dominate to the detriment of others: teachers read what students have written in order to grade it, to measure and record its level of achievement against norms and expectations. As the academic’s comment shows, other purposes in reading students’ work - to engage with their thinking or to offer advice on how to develop ideas and their expression – can be blunted. Her suggestion that feedback in this context can miss its proper recipient - the student – provides a clear illustration of the university’s accreditation function in competition with its role as a facilitator of learning.

 Follow this line of thought by going to the next page, Form or thinking?