I designed and implemented a self-assessment cover sheet for formative work. The aim was to encourage students to think for themselves about how the marking criteria applied to their work, and to stimulate more active engagement with the formative feedback process.
First year (mostly Law) students on the course LL104 - Law of Obligations.
I created a cover sheet for formative assessed work (an essay). This sheet set out the key marking criteria under four main headings (relevance, accuracy, clarity and argument). Under each of these headings, I also set out two more specific attributes that a marker would expect to find, for example:
Prioritisation (absence of irrelevant issues)
Citation of appropriate authorities and literature
These marking criteria functioned as prompt for students to evaluate their own work. In particular students were asked to write on the cover sheet two main strengths and two main weaknesses of their answer, and to indicate which band of marks they thought their work had achieved in relation to each of the eight attributes. The cover sheet also asked students to specify one or two attributes that they wanted to focus on improving for their next piece of work, and to write in a free-text box any specific queries or issues that they wanted me to focus on when reading their work.
Students completed this self-evaluation exercise during the class at which they handed in their essay, on a hard copy of the cover sheet. They then submitted their self-evaluation together with their work.
When I marked the students’ work, I overlaid my marks on the same cover sheet. I also provided written feedback, focusing on areas where my evaluation was out of alignment with the student’s. I also commented on the student’s self-evaluation and reinforced the best elements of their work. The cover sheet also allowed me to specify if the student should book an office hour appointment to discuss a particular aspect of their work with me in person.
I wanted to encourage students to develop their self-evaluation skills and to engage with the marking criteria more actively by applying them themselves. I had previously worried that students were too focused on the numerical mark given for their formative assessment and were neglecting, or failing to act upon, my written comments. I hope that the self-evaluation exercise now helps students to focus constructively on the strengths and weaknesses of their work as part of an ongoing process of improvement.
During the classes, students initially found performing the self-evaluation slightly uncomfortable. I emphasised that getting the ‘level’ of their self-marking correct was far less important than trying accurately to self-assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of their work. This reassured the students that the process was intended to be constructive rather than judgemental.
By the end of the exercise, students almost unanimously reported finding it very useful and even expressed that they were pleased to have been challenged in this way. In particular, several students noted that the exercise had stimulated them to think explicitly about what made for a good (or not-so-good) answer in a way that just writing the answer itself had not.
The students also reported finding it very helpful for them (and me) to specify just one or two criteria (aspects of their writing) that they should focus on improving next time. I have found that the self-evaluation usefully serves to emphasise the aim of attainable and incremental improvement, which can assist students whatever their current level.
Finally, I also personally found it helpful for students to specify points that they wanted me to focus on in their answer, before I started marking the answers. This enabled me to mark more efficiently, by tackling queries/concerns directly from the students’ perspective (as well as forming my own view), without having only to second-guess the aspects with which students had struggled.
I am continuing to refine the cover-sheet in response to student feedback. For example, the original version did not require the students to identify two main strengths and weaknesses, and I did not initially ask student to specify points for me to focus on: both of these features were the product of iterative development of the cover sheet following the initial pilot. I think that there are further improvements that I could make to the way in which I communicate the process of self-evaluation to students during the class, in particular to emphasise the constructive aims of the exercise.
I think that it is helpful to conduct the self-evaluation exercise during class if feasible, at least on the first occasion for each class group, so that there is an opportunity to explain the aims of the exercise and how to use the cover sheet effectively.
The content of the cover sheet could vary depending on the course / type of formative work, but in general I think it should include some marking criteria that students can use as a benchmark for assessing their strengths and weaknesses, rather than asking them to do this ‘cold’.