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Helping Students Recognize Quality Work, Fix What Isn’t Good

How good are your students at assessing the quality of their work? Do they understand and act on the feedback you provide? I’ll wager that some students do. But the rest—they don’t know if what they’re turning in is good, not so good, or what they were supposed to do. If you ask how an assignment turned out, most students are fearfully noncommittal. The verbally confident proclaim that it’s excellent and hope you’ll remember that when you grade it. And this inability to ascertain quality and shortcomings applies to papers, essay answers, proposed solutions to open-ended messy problems, creative performances (artistic, musical, for example), and engineering and architectural projects.

Royce Sadler writes about students’ inabilities to self-assess. I highlighted some of his work on feedback in earlier posts (January 27, 2012 and March 26, 2013). His chapter (cited below) further explores the issues.

To be sure, it is difficult to judge your own work accurately. Even seasoned professionals can be terribly vested in their work. Why, some of my very best blog posts have failed to make even a ripple. But with students, their inability to make judgments and corrections isn’t just their lack of objectivity. They’ve come to rely on faculty feedback. Most teacher feedback tells students if their work is good, and if not what they need to do to make it better. And as Sadler notes, “Research into human learning shows there is only so much a person typically learns from being told.” (p. 55) And this is particularly true when the goal is learning how to complete the complex tasks that are part and parcel of most professions.

Sadler maintains that we need to change our focus “from the narrow issue of how feedback can be improved and communicated. . .towards the wider issue of how assessment (rather than feedback) can enhance student learning.” (p. 56) He sees assessment as a process that can promote learning about the content at the same time it…

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