Assessment and feedback

In this piece, I will be illuminating the meaning and use of assessment and feedback strategies that are advantageous to effective and productive classroom interaction. The justification for these methods will be analyzed and applied to two examples I use commonly in my own practice. I will focus on two styles of assessment; authentic and formative assessment, which I use alongside ipsative assessment. I will draw on why I feel this combination is valid to use in my corner of creative arts.

This work is for reference only, please note it has been through the TurnItIn system, therefore you cannot plagarise my work. All work is in British English.

My use of evaluative criteria is varied — insofar as there are a number of ‘modes’ I switch between in order to sustain progression, forward thinking and interpersonal status with students – sustaining validly and rapport with the learners.

In a graphic design setting validity largely revolves around having previous experience in industry, or sometimes simply through exposure to the world of art, design etcetera for a longer period of time. Students recognize need for this ever-growing and wide-ranging endorsement of good design practices and methods. They will hopefully seldom question its integrity and long-term meaning. Willing learners pick up on subtly mentioned self-qualification by teachers in initial interactions and on an ongoing basis and throughout the course of study. An emphasis on the use of this behaviour in induction stages of courses can initiate greater belief in the teachers’ (my) knowledge and experience. However, it is generally necessary to introduce other elements to this rhetoric for this feedback to be effective, tactful and meaningful. For example, these strategies are implemented using defined criterion built and/or based around formative assessment. In this setting formative assessment (other than simple on-going criteria-linked assessment) is used infrequently compared to ipsative or authentic assessment, which is often identical in outcome when working towards a product-oriented goal. As mentioned, validity is cemented via having qualifications; for example having a degree in the field being taught. This becomes clear when external sources are used to compare and contrast students’ work; often through informal verbal feedback. Verbal feedback is common and comes in two forms – group and one to one. One to one tends to have more of a direct impact on learners’ outcomes as it is more directed and specific whereas group based feedback tends to be more suggestive and exploratory, allowing the student to find out more themselves and take their response to the assignment in a direction they feel most comfortable.

In line with this, ipsative assessment (choice based response to criteria) is the basis for many graphic design assignments, these are often known as ‘design briefs’. In conjunction with ‘authentic learning’ this becomes a pedagogical approach that allows students to explore, discuss, and meaningfully construct concepts and relationships in contexts that involve real-world problems and projects that are relevant to the learner (Donovan, Bransford & Pellegrino, 1999).  This is because more often than not there are a number of ways to approach a task and the learner should be allowed free rein over how they respond to it. This is in contrast to other areas of study, such as mathematics, in which there are defined methods to tackle a given problem. In other words, the scope for creativity should not be stemmed or limited in the creative arts. Even though there are a number of criteria that need to be fulfilled, this is ultimately the ‘goal of the artist’ to create something new and innovative, yet meet the needs of the (often, but not always) hypothetical ‘client’. The goal when teaching the creative arts is to provide valid and understandable feedback whilst assisting the learner to fulfil assessment criteria and nurturing creativity simultaneously. This helps students realize the potential and worth of making connections beyond the classroom to the real world. Within our teaching we are aiming to ensure that students not only know the content of the discipline when they graduate, but are able to use the acquired knowledge and skills in the real world. Keeping this in mind whilst in contact with the student should increase the feeling of self-belief, worth and value in what they create. This can be a problem with creative-minded students – ‘Fear of the blank page’ is a common issue with many students, so a bolstered self-belief (created through positive and constructive feedback) can ease this. Often this compels students to produce more work, and in turn often leading learners to research subject areas they otherwise may have never looked at which expands horizons and understanding. The impact of valid and understandable (and most importantly useful feedback) is that it is fair and given on a level playing field.

Verbal feedback, in the context of the project-oriented goal assessment, needs to be carefully administered to have best effect. This is because sometimes there can be misinterpretations of meaning can be are what students recall, especially when there is a time gap between the feedback delivery and the student revisiting the work.

Janet Auten in her 2007 article in The Writing Lab Newsletter expresses this succinctly –

“teacher comments can get derailed when a student misreads (read: misinterprets) guidance as disapproval and rejection of their ideas”. Verbal feedback lacks the explicit clarity that written feedback allows, however it does force the instructor to articulate clearly what is needed to fulfil criteria. Verbal feedback can increase student reflection. This because it allows the tutor the opportunity to ask direct questions (be they open or closed questions) for example, self-setting of goals, making verbal commitments to meet targets. Verbal assessment sessions give students themselves the opportunity to feedback to the tutor how they feel they are progressing, learning or finding the course in general.”

Written feedback makes it possible to refer back, take copies and most importantly, be able to track and compare progress of learners. This is particularly clear when suggestions or requirements for adjustments (in the case of a referral or resubmission) are not included. This can occur when the student does not see the logic or the reasoning clearly at the time the feedback is given. For this reason, the majority of assessment feedback (often the same as the marking sheets) are based around a paper based form that includes criteria feedback sections. This enables the tutor, using a single form, to process and track students’ attainment. This is ideally coupled with a one to one (verbal) conversation to help learners with any aspects of the feedback they struggle to understand. This also shows others (Internal verifiers, moderators, managers and other staff) where the learner has achieved (or perhaps failed to meet) criteria. This is particularly important for record keeping the school or college, and thereby adds to the credibility and underlying standards that the institution uphold. This also allows the quality and assurance team to independently review learner feedback, and grade outcomes, so that the whole establishment is working in a uniform manner.

So far I have looked at how assessment and feedback is used whilst a learner is undertaking a course. This is the bulk of a tutors role during projects however there is another juncture at which careful assessment is needed and that is on a students’ application. Not only do prospective students have to have certain qualities to be eligible for most courses, they also need to prove it.

This is another instance in which teachers and students must show understanding and realisation of the criteria set to enter a course, sometimes using discretion when assessing the abilities of an individual in terms of their potential in the future. With the exception of the most very basic introduction courses, a portfolio of work is required (normally at the interview stage) whilst applying to a course. This has parallels with job applications — creation of cover letters, sending of a curriculum vitæ, producing the required documentation, etcetera. Portfolios are a good indicator of a students’ capabilities, level of understanding and skill and certainly count as an initial assessment for the teachers benefit. Initial interviews are also the starting point for learner profiling, which in conjunction with all the other learners on the course (or in a given class) creates the group profile. The group profile then allows tutors to fine-tune the teaching sessions to suit the needs of the group as best they possibly can, which helps create the optimum learning environment.

This initial assessment has a number of purposes — the main objective being that the student is placed at the right level of study — and most importantly on the correct course. For example, an accomplished photographer wouldn’t be advised to enter a for example a level 5 [fairly advanced] course in graphic design purely on the basis that their photography is good. This would be making the assumption that because the student has a flair for ‘aesthetics’, they are therefore able to handle Graphic Design vernacular, theory and practice. This would not be the best course of action for the learner and would make teaching them difficult because of the lack of foundation knowledge needed to study at these levels. In this instance, I would be completely honest and explicit with the student; I would inform them they ought to be starting at a lower level, even if they were adamant they were meant to be on a higher level course.

This ultimately comes down to personal judgment but also experience drawn from industry — making a rapid assessment of the artists/ designer/ photographers’ work. The student needs to introduced to this kind of scrutiny early on as this helps prepare them for times in the future when they might not have wholly positive feedback and might need to revisit the project. This is the initial pattern of the student having trust in the validity of the tutors comments and experience, and the understanding that they are going to be expected to take action on the feedback given. This therefore helps students take a degree of control over their own learning. John Butler (1980) gives reasons and examples as to why teachers should use different kinds of responses to the remedial (in this case in relation to basic writing skills) students than they do to “better” writers. These responses should be simple and positive so that the remedial student can both understand what the teacher is communicating and be encouraging. John Hattie and Helen Timperley (2007) feel that more learning is achieved if both the student and teacher are asking the same questions. These questions are; Where am I going? How am I going? and Where to Next? This is only natural as this means the two parties understand what is needed to continue to develop.

To conclude, the most important aspect of the assessment-feedback loop is that the student progresses with the turn of each cycle, ideally significantly with each cycle, and that they recognise why they have progressed in the way they have. They ought to be able to understand the feedback and why it has been given: a skill that teachers and lecturers alike need to hone and fine tune for each student. It is important to remember a students’ needs, give praise and positivity when appropriate and to manage expectations when they submit — i.e. not to voice initial opinions of work without the marking criteria in mind, ideally to stay completely neutral in terms of verbal comments until the appropriate moment (the feedback meeting). There are of course more ways to assess and give feedback than described above, but highlighted here are the methods implemented in some art and design departments in further education settings.

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Auten, J & Pasterkiewicz M, 2007. “The Third Voice in the Session: Helping Students Interpret Teachers’ Comments on Their Papers.“ The Writing Lab Newsletter 32.4.

Anson, Chris. 1982 “The Artificial Art of Evaluating Writing.” Journal of Teaching Writing 1: 159-69.

Anson, Chris. “Reflective Reading: Developing Thoughtful Ways to Respond to Students’ Writing.” Key Works on Teacher Response: An Anthology. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2006. 361 382.

Bardine, B et al, 2000 “Beyond the Red Pen: Clarifying Our Role in the Response Process.” English Journal 90.1: 94–101

Butler, John 1980. “Remedial Writers: The Teacher’s Job as Corrector of Papers.” College Composition and Communication 31.3 270–277

Daiker, D. 1989 “Learning to Praise.” Writing and Response: Theory, Practice, and Research. Ed. Chris M. Anson. Urbana, IL:NCTE, 1989. 103–113

Hattie, J, and Timperley, H, 2007. “The Power of Feedback.” Review of Educational Research 77.1: 81–112. University of Auckland.

Middleton, H. 2015 “Psychiatry Reconsidered.“ Palgrave Macmilan Books

Petty, G. 1993. “Teaching Today- 5th edition.“ London: Oxford University Press