What do we mean?
Assessment for Learning (AfL) is an approach that recognises that assessment motivates and develops individual knowledge and skills as well as validating student achievement. It is intimately linked with the process of giving and receiving feedback which students understand, engage with, and act upon to improve their future performance.
Results from the National Student Survey and many other valuable sources of student feedback tell us that our students are less satisfied with assessment and feedback than they are with other aspects of their learning and wider student experience at the University of Bath. This can seem frustrating as we know that there are many examples of really excellent assessment and feedback across the University.
Recent analysis of our NSS feedback, and similar work which has been undertaken at other institutions, has revealed that many of students’ perceived shortcomings of assessment and feedback could be overcome through better communication between staff and students about feedback opportunities and the way in which their assessments are marked. By entering into a dialogue with students about assessment and feedback on their units, and across their course, we can improve the clarity of what we expect from them in assessments and how formative feedback (or feedforward) will help them to improve both within a unit and through their course.
Some specific tips are provided below to assist you in explaining to students how their assessments will be marked; what feedback will be provided and when; and how this feedback can help them improve within a unit and through their course.
The tips below for enhancing students' understanding of assessment and engagement with feedback draw on the Understand, Engage, Act (UEA) principles. This builds on a 2020/21 TDF project that brought together students and staff at Bath to uncover differences in their experiences and expectations of assessment feedback. The focus is specifically on developing students' feedback literacy where both teachers and students share a common understanding of effective feedback practice (see Evans, 2013, 2016; Wong, 2019). Key to this is allowing space for students to talk, discuss, ask questions, and practice in a supported environment. This approach builds on a wealth of research highlighting that for feedback to support student learning, it is critical that students actively engage with and act on it (Winstone and Nash, 2016), acknowledging that barriers, such as not understanding or knowing how to interpret feedback, often mean students feel unable to act (Jonsson, 2013).Download Top Tips PDF
In order for students to engage fully in their assessment, they need to understand what they are being asked to do, by when, what key ideas or tasks they need to learn or undertake, and how any formative assessments might feed into the summative assessment.
It is important to make time early on to explain the assessment task(s), when assessments are due, how different assessment tasks fit together, and to develop a shared understanding with your students on the principles underpinning the assessment. Explain to students how feedback on summative assessment in a unit can help them to improve in future units and also encourage them to make connections across units.
- Check with your students if they understand what is expected of them (is this explicit in the marking criteria)?
- Do they have any anxieties, and what would help them?
- Explain and signpost to students how the assessment feedback you are providing links to the learning outcomes of the course.
- Schedule in specific times to do this, or create a forum on Moodle for students to post questions throughout the course.
Information about the assessment, due dates, and feedback opportunities can be provided in the Assessment Tab in your unit’s Moodle page.
Recent analysis of NSS feedback across institutions has revealed that many of students’ perceived shortcomings of assessment and feedback could be overcome through better communication between staff and students. This can be improved by providing feedback and feed forward opportunities and the way in which their assessments are marked.
Certainly, student perceptions about the timeliness of feedback are often determined by expectations. Clarity about when feedback will be provided is important for managing these expectations.
Through discussions with students about feedback on their units, and across their course, we can improve the clarity of what we expect from them in assessments and how formative feedback (or feed forward) will help them to improve both within a unit and through their course. In particular, we can encourage a course-wide approach to learning by engaging students with their previous feedback and prompting them to reflect on how they can continue to build on this throughout the course.
- Check with your students if they understand what feedback or feed forward means, or if they realise when they are being given information and advice about feedback.
- Ask students if information about feedback opportunities is easy to find and clear?
- Do students know how, where and when feedback will be provided?
- As a course team discuss your feedback opportunities, and consider an ‘end of marking’ session to review and evaluate the overall feedback to feed forward to next year’s cohort.
- If, for whatever reason, feedback is going to be later than originally planned explain this to your students to help them adjust their expectations.
The Skills Centre has produced a guide for students on understanding feedbacking and how to use it.
Students sometimes find the assessment criteria confusing or unclear and can feel that they are detached from the question being set or the overall assignment brief. It may contain terms (or concepts) that they find difficult to understand or do not fully comprehend. By discussing the assessment criteria, you can help make it tangible to students.
Further, in providing exemplars of good work, and demonstrating its strengths (and weaknesses), students can start to see how the assessment criteria can be applied. Likewise, examples of weaker assessments are beneficial for students to develop a clearer understanding of common mistakes and to self-identify areas for improvement.
- Consider promoting a discussion with students about the assessment criteria so they better understand and take personal ownership of the assessment criteria.
- Ask the students to clarify their understanding through a group discussion.
- Consider asking them to re-write some of the assessment criteria in their own words as a ‘student friendly’ version (this could then be shared with next year’s cohort to build on as a resource).
- Are there specific words or phrases that they do not understand fully? If so, provide a space for them to discuss this and work with them to ensure the criteria are as clear and explicit.
- Provide short exemplars of work for students and ask them to critique them. This does not need to extensive, even a single paragraph can help.
- Ask students what they think is good/bad about the work, what key points are being made, and how well.
You could explore using a marking guide or rubric in Moodle to ensure assessment guidelines and success criteria are clear to markers and students.
Students can benefit when provided with opportunities to ‘operate as judges of their own learning’ (Boud & Molloy, 2013, p. 698), by self-assessing their own work (and that of others), and generating feedback. This helps them to build on their understanding of assessment criteria, and how this is applied in practice.
- Support students to identify how the assessment criteria has been applied. For example, ask them to employ the PEEL analysis (Point, Evidence, Explanation, Link) to critique the work and apply to their own assignment
- Provide students with training and support in how to give and use feedback.
- Consider using auto-marked quizzes for timely formative (and summative) self assessment.
- If undertaking self or peer-review tasks, provide students with explicit instructions on what feedback you want them to give, and what they should do with the feedback.
- Consider developing (or encouraging) student support groups for them to discuss their concerns, ideas and tips on addressing feedback and feed forward. This could either be in-year, or across year groups as part of a wider peer network.
Students often only see feedback in the context of end of assessment comments on their work, and miss other opportunities for feedback during the assignment.
It is important to keep reinforcing the message about feedback to students when they are developing their assignments, providing opportunities for formative feedback throughout the assessment process.
- Set specific dates or check points during the assessment period to get students to reflect on any feedback given, and use it to inform the development of their assignment
- During the assessment process encourage students to discuss any difficulties they are having and to share questions they have about an assignment.
- Offer short Q&A sessions (either live or via online chat) to respond to student assessment queries.
- Create a list of standard questions for students to reflect on based on previous student queries about the assessment. E.g. have they addressed the question fully, how well is the work structured for the reader, are references correctly cited?
As a Course team, consider creating a student feedback guide, such as that created by Winstone and Nash (2016).
Student attention around feedback may only focus on the grades they receive, and so they may not engage with the overall feedback process. Feedback can often be passive and one way, so encourage students to discuss what feedback they would appreciate for their assessments.
There is also often no link made between the feedback process, and how this can be used as feed forward to support future learning in other assignments. Students should be encouraged to reflect on their performance and think about how they will aim to use the experience to apply their learning to future assessments.
- During and after an assessment, ask students to complete a feedback cover sheet on how previous feedback has helped.
- Provide a summary of key points from the previous assessment and link it to the next assignment. E.g. work lacked critical analysis, recent literature not consulted, final versions not fully proofread.
- At the start of a new assessment, ask students to revisit their feedback cover sheets so they know how to apply their learning to the current assessment.
- Consider promoting a discussion with students about the assessment criteria so they can apply their key learning points from their feedback to the current assessment.
King’s College London has a range of examples on interactive cover sheets, and set out the pros and cons of this approach.
For further information about developing your approach to assessment and feedback, you may be interested in our these pages: