One step at a time; the potential of formative assessment

Nikita’s chapter on enhancing formative assessment as the way of boosting students’ performance and achieving learning outcomes is inviting. It speaks to the potential of academic intervention in effecting changes in student outcomes, in this case an improvement in their writing and argumentative skills.

The literature is rich in respect of the potential of formative assessment, for example, see Sambell (2013) and Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006). Thus, Nikita is pursuing a change in practice with aligns with a significant evidence base. From the reader’s perspective, there are a couple of things to attend to when reading the chapter and reflecting on their own practice.

First, and of note, is the determination of the author to grasp his agency and to plan for change. It is so easy in a crowded academic life to just keep going, rather than imagine solutions. I commend Nikita’s thoughtfulness and clarity of purpose.

Second, and also a commendation is the plan for change itself, with its three elements, all of which reach into the evidence base around assessment and feedback practice. This said, I would urge caution with the use of what has come to be known as the ‘feedback sandwich’ within which the teacher starts with positive feedback, then focuses on the ‘problems’ before presenting suggestions or strategies for improvement and then wrapping up with a positive note (see, for example, Dohrenwend, 2002). Amongst many others, James (2015) is critical of the technique, advising us to expand our practice away from it. He goes on to propose that because feedback ‘is a complex process’ we should adopt approaches that ‘place an emphasis on the learner as an active participant in the learning process’ and should avoid negative feedback ‘in favour of constructive support’ (James, 2015 p.759). Returning to Nikita’s chapter, in the light of James’ urging, it is good to see the use of audio feedback and not surprising to learn that the students valued it.

I would invite Nikita and his reader to be careful in two respects. The study focuses on five Masters students, therefore it would seem wise not to disregard what is described as sequential assessment too soon. Perhaps introduce it to other student groups and speak to its intention more. And because the study used three interventions, it is still probably unclear as to the relative impact of each intervention on the students’ writing and argumentative skills – the point of the study in the first place.

In closing, thank you for the opportunity to read the chapter. It is always reassuring to know that we are not content to accept the status quo in our assessment and feedback practices.

Dr Fiona Smart, PFHEA
Edinburgh Napier University


Early Career Academics’ Reflection on Learning to Teach in Central Europe

SEDA is publishing an open access book online, with a chapter released on its website every fortnight.  Each time a chapter is released it will be accompanied by a blog post published on SEDA WordPress. The book is called Early Career Academics’ Reflections on Learning to Teach in Central Europe, edited by Gabriela Pleschová and Agnes Simon. This book contains case studies by participants of a new educational development programme who redesigned their course sessions to apply student-centred approaches, using innovative teaching methods and stimulate good learning.

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