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3. Improve the status of formative assessment


Formative assessment will engage students with higher quality feedback sooner and distribute everyone’s workload more evenly – this is why the University has now agreed and approved a definition of formative feedback. However, students might not immediately see the importance of formative assessment since it is not credit bearing.


  • Emphasise that formative assessment will be used to amend your teaching plan for the rest of the trimester, so you need accurate information on student learning.


  • Highlight the benefits of formative assessment to students: it can help them to understand assessment criteria, clarify their thinking, and gain peer feedback.


  • Make explicit the links between formative assessment, with clear feedback, and subsequent summative assessment.


  • Don’t justify everything in terms of grades: emphasise how a formative assessment will contribute to developing skills, for example those concerned with employability.


  • Try engage students with the principle of formative assessment, promoting its effective learning purpose rather than the link to “generating grades” (Boud, 2010, page 6).


  • Break the process of preparing for a summative assessment into smaller formative tasks and focus feedback on these instead of waiting until the end of the module. For example, break preparation into literature searching, evaluating sources, planning structure, etc. Some of this work can be done in groups. Starting with students self-evaluating how they usually prepare for summative assignments should help to convince them that more structure would help!


  • Coach students in asking the right questions. A useful formative task could be deciding which questions the groups wants a tutor to focus on during the next class.


  • Analyse a selection of feedback from the previous cohort. Students should appreciate the chance to look for tips in advance, giving a good opportunity to draw out any implicit tutor expectations.


  • Take some time to discuss poorly chosen sources (especially if they were used the previous year). What makes one source dated while another is seminal? Why is Wikipedia not recommended as a source? How can we check for news source bias? Task groups of students to offer corrections or alternatives to lower quality sources.


  • Create a bank of multiple choice questions. These can include automatic feedback online. Encourage students to participate by emphasising that you will use responses diagnostically when deciding the focus of taught sessions. This shifts the focus from trying to get the right answer to thinking carefully about what students already know or need help with.


  • Ask students to bring in feedback from other modules and work in groups to identify common themes. These could become study groups as students find ways to help each other.


  • Get students to summarise assessment criteria or mark an exemplar. This is a powerful way to expose misunderstandings or tacit expectations.


  • Emphasise the value of your module by asking students to draft their assessment response before the module begins: what can they not do now but will be able to do by the end?


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