Gibbs (2006) argues that surface learning could be encouraged by assessment systems which allow students ‘to get away with not studying very much at all,’ such as examinations (summative) which allow students to ‘question spot’ and avoid much of the curriculum. The concept of ‘hidden curriculum’ relates to surface learning in that it describes a situation in which students filter what to learn and pay attention to, not constructing their understanding of what is studied (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004). Other concepts coined by Gibbs (2006) to describe the link between summative and surface learning behaviours are ‘cue conscious,’ that is, awareness of what to study and what to leave out; ‘cue seekers,’ or trying by all means, to find out what questions would be in the examination, even asking for a scope; and ‘cue deaf,’ that is, disregarding information on the scope of work to prepare for the examination.
The concept of constructive alignment is based on a belief that diverse and larger classes create difficulty in maintaining academic standards, with an existing nexus between teaching and learning and assessment (Biggs, 1999; Murray, 2019). It is contended that when all components are aligned the students can achieve high order learning. Constructive alignment is often seen as the most powerful student learning tool available to higher education teachers (Orsmond & Merry, 2017). Teachers are therefore expected to organise the teaching and learning context such that the outcomes indicate the kind of understanding required from students, and that the learning activities achieve those understandingsDeep and surface learning.
Constructive alignment is, therefore, a teaching system that aligns the intended learning outcomes, what should be learnt with the teaching methods, learning activities and the assessment strategies or the means of ascertaining the levels of understanding, knowledge and application. The focus of teaching and learning is not on what teachers teach but what they would like the students to learn and how students could be assisted to achieve deep learning.
Formative assessments are effective for improving student learning if followed by constructive feedback and effective instructional responses, such as reviewing and re-teaching. It is important that feedback is delivered as soon as possible and sufficiently detailed to be considered developmental. Assessments focusing on deep learning require oral, written and detailed feedback.
Norm-referencing is comparative and not linked to the achievement of outcomes and is insensitive to changes in students’ learning (Knight, 2002). It indicates a student’s grade with reference to others in the cohort, whereas criterion-referencing identifies what counts as successful performance or good attainment. It involves the use of descriptors. The concern is raised about assessment tools and grading criteria which are commonly used because the scores given in percentages tend to be silent and not informative and fail to indicate what students have learnt (Knight, 2002). However, it is noted that more informative transcripts could sprawl into long lists of statements of achievements and therefore be ignored.
A rubric is an explicit set of criteria for assessing performance and it provides detailed information on how work is assessed (Andrade, 2000; Chan et al., 2019). The rubric for an assignment has the criteria and grading scores with a detailed explanation of how the scores are achieved. Grading a student’s performance involves drawing an inference from what the student produces. The quality of the inference depends on several factors, including the quality of students’ answers during the assessment process. Moreover, an ambiguous item is unlikely to give rise to good-quality data because different students will probably interpret the item differently.
The teacher needs to set up a task that has one or more of the following components: problem to be solved, a question to be answered, an issue to be addressed, or a position to critiqued or defended with evidence (Sadler, 2016). The descriptors indicate how the scores are derived and what is expected of the students, including the level of performance that students are expected to demonstrate.
Use your comments on a student’s paper to highlight things the paper accomplishes well and a few major things that would most improve the paper.
Always observe at least one or two strengths in the student’s paper, even if they seem to you to be low-level accomplishments — but avoid condescension.
Don’t make exhaustive comments. They take up too much of your time and leave the student with no sense of priority among them.
Don’t proofread. If the paper is painfully replete with errors and you want to emphasize writing mechanics, count the first ten errors on the page, draw a line at that point, and ask the student to identify them and to show their corrections to you in office hours. S
Notice patterns or repeated errors (in content or form). Choose the three or four most disabling ones and direct your comments toward helping the students understand what they need to learn to do differently to correct this kind of error.
Use marginal notes to locate and comment on specific passages in the paper (for example “Interesting idea — develop it more” or “I lost the thread of the argument in this section” or “Very useful summary here before you transition to the next point”). Use final or end comments to discuss more global issues (e.g., “Work on paragraph structure” or “The argument from analogy is ineffective. A better way to make the point would be…”)
Maintain a catalogue of positive end comments: “Good beginning for a 1B course.” “Very perceptive reading.” “Good engagement with the material.” “Gets at the most relevant material/issues/passages.” Anything that connects specific aspects of the student’s product with the grading rubric is useful. (For more on grading rubrics, see the Grading section of the Teaching Guide.)
Diplomatic but firm suggestions for improvement: Here you must be specific and concrete. Try “The most strategic improvement you could make is…” Again, don’t try to comment on everything. Select only the most essential areas for improvement, and watch the student’s progress on the next draft or paper.
Typical in-text marks: Provide your students with a legend of your reading marks. Does a straight underline indicate “good stuff”? Does a wavy underline mean something different? Do you use abbreviations in the margins? You can find examples of standard editing marks in many writing guides, such as the Random House Handbook.
The tone of your comments on student writing is important to students. Avoid sarcasm and jokes — students who take offense are less disposed to learn.
Address the student by name before your end-comments, and sign your name after your remarks. Be professional, and bear in mind the sorts of comments that help you with your work.