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Further to my post of April 19th, I put my idea’s of formative feedback into action. Yesterday the group of 2nd years whom I am teaching in a module on ‘Group care’ participated in some formative/peer feedback. The module is intense, and runs over 2 weeks, so there is little room to go away and reflect. Yesterday (day 6 out of 9) the group came in with some work they had already prepared. I had asked them to consider the essay title and spend some time planning (using bullet points at the very least) what were the important aspects to include in their assignments. The intention was that this would give me a chance to see how they are consolidating their learning, and whether they were engaging in deep level learning or surface learning (Biggs 1999). I mixed up the group and separated them into 6 groups of 3, and instructed them to engage in a kind of ‘timed talk’ where they each had a 20 minute slot to share their ideas with their 2 colleagues and recieve feedback and engage in idea sharing. The only rules were that feedback had to be respectful and constructive.  Myself and a colleague floated round the room, joining in groups as required (I put Chrissi’s ‘flag’ idea into action and it worked well!) we were able to answer questions, provide clarification and listen to some of the discussion that was taking place.

The intention was to ‘probe students’ knowledge as it is being constructed, so that any misunderstandings can be set right… to do this requires a climate where students feel free to admit error’ (Biggs 1999 p75). I felt as though the session was incredibly productive. The groups worked well together; they asked for help when needed; individuals went away with a clearer idea of how to approach their essays; and we gained some insight into what they are grasping and what they are struggling with. At the end of the session I asked the students verbally to give feedback on how well they thought it worked, and they were all very positive. I am conscious that they are completing the module evaluation tomorrow so didn’t want to overevaluate with them. I’m not sure how well they each took it in turns to discuss their work – I got the feeling that mostly the group had a general discussion. If I repeat the exercise I think I might get the person who’s turn it is to be interviewed by the other two about their thoughts, then it means each individual gets the same proportion of time to discuss their work/thoughts. (A1; A3; A4; K2; K5; V2)

Biggs J (1999) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. OU Press; Buckingham.

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The requirement to keep a portfolio has got me thinking about the work we set our students. The assessement within some modules is very rigid and leaves little opportuntiy to be creative or imaginative. This often reflects the style of the teacher – some of my colleagues are incredibly prescriptive when it comes to assessment, they like to give the students very clear instructions on what they must and must not do. I suppose this helps the marking process, as all the assignments can be measured against each other, in a much more quantitative fashion. My personal preference is to be a bit less prescriptive with essay titles and instructions (where the assessment is an essay). I like to give some pointers, and some essential components of what the essay must include, but give the student room to bring something of themselves to the piece of work. There are always students in the group who struggle with this approach, and I will admit to being frustrated in the past, by those individuals who want everything spelling out to them, who don’t seem willing (or confident?) to come up with something of their own.

However, what I am discovering on the PGCAP, is that I think I resemble those students more than I have previously realised. I have really struggled with being given such an open remit when it comes to the construction and design of the portfolio. I have on many occasions wanted someone to tell me exactly how it should be laid out, and be more prescriptive about what content should go in what sections. The fact that it is up to me, has caused me more headaches, than it has liberated me. This has been something of a revelation, as I have always thought of myself as a creative, ‘not wanting to be forced into a box’ type of person and thinker. But actually in many ways perhaps I am more conservative, and wanting to be told what to do, then I have realised. The learning I shall take from this, will be to be more patient with those individuals in the future who need a bit more guidance with the layout and completing of their work. Our job as educators is surely to empower people and nurture their creative impulses, so I think I’ll be little more empathic in the future.

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