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Assessment for learning


‘The practice of feedback needs to have a positive and sustained influence on learning’ (Boud & Molloy 2013, p. 698). Assessment needs to be at the centre of course design and include consciously designed, active and appropriate feedback.

Students need to be inducted into the tertiary learning process, particularly students in first year as they are susceptible to a range of feelings, from nervousness to fear, over their academic performance (Clarke & Wilson 2016). To ensure that students are able to learn from their own tertiary experiences, feedback needs to be an explicit part of the design of a course.

Assessment must always require ‘engagement of students in productive learning activities’ (Boud 2010) which includes learning how to engage in discipline discourse.

RMIT teachers use a range of strategies to support students in their assessment. Look at the quotes below.

Introduce the wealth of resources available to students: the SLC, DLU, Library and clubs or societies associated with their course.
Before assignments, include a visit from SLC staff (targeted workshop) to focus on task requirements.
I introduce LEAD academic mentors and their roles into the class.
A clear outline of what assignments are part of the course. This information exists, but students from school expect to be told this information face-to-face and more than once.

With thanks to: Dr Belinda Kennedy, Kathy Edwards, Lorraine Rodrigues & Ben Crockett.

To acclimatise students to assessment tasks, consider setting a short hurdle assignment (less than 500 words) first. It should include elements that will be required in later assessment tasks, including:

  • a detailed plan or outline of a future assessment task
  • paraphrasing class content
  • in-text referencing and a reference list

Provide feedback regarding the objectives of the assignment structure, i.e. the discourse, paraphrasing and referencing skills.

Assessment feedback (Tutorial)

Allow students to submit drafts using programs such as Turnitin or Smarthinking, to evaluate their paraphrasing.

Using Turnitin

Smarthinking (login required) (Please note: All RMIT students have 4 hours of free online tuition)

An assessment task can be complex. Students may misinterpret instructions or be confused about what is required of them. Their interpretation can be very different from your expectations.

For example, students may be unaware that argument or critical analysis is required, as well as the need to express ideas in their own voice.

  • Analyse the question in class to encourage discussion and questioning.
  • Check if the task is new or unusual - students may mistakenly reshape tasks to a more familiar format.
  • Brainstorm or discuss what the assessment actually is and what shape it should take.

Assessment feedback (Strategy 1) (Tutorial)

International student stories: Structuring assignments (Tutorial)

Understanding an assignment topic (Tip sheet) (PDF 110KB)

Students want to know exactly what is required of them, something that a clear assessment task and related rubric can tell them.

  • Ensure that instructions for the assignment task are clear and explicit.
  • Genre (essay, report, case study, reflective writing, etc.), marking criteria, expectations of response (analysis, discussion, reflection, etc.).
  • Use a rubric to provide a clear set of criteria and expected levels of performance

Assessment feedback (Strategy 2) (Tutorial)

Teach the task: Integrating language into course assessment (Tip sheet) (PDF 186KB)

Rubrics or marking guides are effective tools for discussing assessment task requirements and giving explicit feedback. Use samples to demonstrate how they are rated against the rubric (poor, average, excellent).

Start with the highest level, then move backwards, categorising the performance of each element at each level. For example: the essay criteria may fall under a number of categories that contribute to the final essay mark which can provide constructive feedback to the student.

Students should look at the rubric alongside the assignment brief for guidance on how to undertake the whole assignment. This could be a pair work activity.

Provide a model of the type of response you expect and explain why that response was successful.

Using rubrics (Tutorial)

Example rubric for feedback (PDF 75KB)

Structure opportunities in class for students to ask questions and clarify their understanding of course content to stimulate and improve their learning experience.

Using questions in class (Tip sheet) (PDF 68KB)

Language development through student interaction (Tip sheet) (PDF 65KB)

Checking understanding: Engage, review, refresh (PDF 67KB)

For more tips and resources on assessment, see the section on assessment in the Guide to Teaching.

Boud, D & Molloy, E 2013, ‘Rethinking models of feedback for learning: the challenge of design’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 38, no. 6, pp. 698-712.

Clarke, B & Wilson 2016, The Ethos of Belonging: A narrative model approach to student engagement 2011-2015, RMIT University, Melbourne, VIC.