A symposium on assessment and marking was led by Dr Maria da Costa, lately of the Institute of Education of London University, at the Kent & Sussex Montessori Centre in S.E. England.   It was attended by current & prospective staff of MAEL.   The morning was spent re-visiting theoretical constructs and the afternoon spent looking at old essays and discussing how they had been marked and some of the practical issues involved.  A number of issues were raised and the directors of MAEL will now consider the implications of these, with especial reference to re-formulating the general and specific marking criteria in order to clarify what is expected.  The programme of the day follows:

Workshop: Assessing learning and marking
Date: 25 January 2014

Synopsis of the Workshop
This workshop will focus on summative assessment and marking. We will consider good assessment tasks and processes introducing aspects such as reliability, effectiveness,
practicality, and discuss characteristics of good marking and feedback practices, such as the use of marking schemes, criteria and grade descriptors by examining  participants’ own practical examples brought to the workshop.  Workshop Learning Outcomes This workshop, coupled with subsequent experiential learning in the practice of marking, should lead to participants achieving the following workshop learning outcomes. Participants will:
• Understand and apply concepts relevant to summative assessment and marking
• Be aware of assessment principles and their implications for their own practice
• Know about and put into practice sound marking processes
• Show commitment to developing their own capacity to apply appropriate academic standards in marking

Pre-workshop Tasks
• Gather various assessment related documents together and
bring them to the workshop in order to share them with
participants; a module assessment strategy, an
assessment brief for a specific assignment, two pieces of
marked work (a strong one and a weak one), the
marking scheme (assessment criteria, grade descriptors)
and the comments on the work provided to the students
• Gather information about any items you will be individually
marking over the coming year: e.g. hand in date, date
due back to students, number of pieces, etc.

The workshop
Presentation of key concepts on assessment
The process of marking
Providing feedback to students
Dealing with discrepancies
Post-workshop Task
Critically review one aspect of your own (or someone else’s)
assessment and marking practice, taking account of the
principles relevant to assessment and marking introduced
during the workshop.

Links to 2011 UK Professional Standards for Teaching
and Supporting Learning in Higher Education (UKPSF)
Areas of Activity (A)
3. Assess and give feedback to learners
Core Knowledge (K)
1. The subject material
3. How students learn, both generally and within their
subject/disciplinary areas(s)
6. The implications of quality assurance and quality
enhancement for academic and professional practice with a
particular focus on teaching
Professional Values (V)
2. Promote participation in higher education and equality of
opportunity for learners
3. Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from
research, scholarship and continuing professional development
4. Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education
operates recognising the implications for professional practice.
Dr Maria da Costa
Appendix 1
Good Responding Strategies
Constructive comments aim at helping writers not only to understand
their problems with the specific text in question, but also to develop a
critical approach and strategy that can be used in future writing
• Talk about “the essay” not the student: When explaining problems
in the text, avoid using “you.” “You do not explain well enough”
can be read as a personal attack, but “the text doesn’t explain
well enough” locates the problem in a more detached manner.
• Ensure your comments reflect your priorities: Respond with the
assignment’s primary goals in mind, using a hierarchy of priorities
for responding to various elements. If 80% of your comments are
about grammar, the message this may send is that grammar is
more important than other elements.
• Advise future action: Comments should also provide guidance for
future revision or learning, even if it is a final draft. In your
terminal comments, you may wish to give students a few things to
revise or pay attention to next time. Instead of just telling them
what to avoid in the future, try finding positive verbs for the same
action (organize, look up, create transitions, introduce, explain,
remember, include).
• Positive comments: It is important to praise the text for what is done
well. When revising, a student who has received no positive
comments is unlikely to know what is worth keeping in the draft.
The student may actually revise portions of the text that needed
no correction if they receive only negative comments from their
• Explain good elements: Positive comments also function to support
the students in their learning, and reinforce good writing
strategies. The word “good” may give students a nice feeling, but
if the comments do not explain why, they may think it is only your
personal preference.
Negative or Inappropriate Comments
Negative responding strategies offer little concrete direction for the
writer and may exist simply to justify a grade or explain why something
does not work well. These comments do not encourage the student, but
may actually serve to confuse and frustrate them in the absence of
positive statements.
• No comments: Offering no comments other than the letter grade is
comparable to giving punishment or reward without telling a
person why. In many cases good and bad writers alike may feel
that their grade was due to luck or the teacher’s mood or
personality. They may wonder whether you actually read the
• Vague and sparse comments: Other instructors try to save time by
writing a few single-word comments on the margins or a few
checkmarks. This leads to confusion for the student as they are
left to puzzle over your purpose, tone, and the implications of
these fragmented words or symbols.
• Too many comments: Presenting students with an overwhelming
amount of information about their texts can lead to
discouragement. Students do not know which comments to
address first.
• Changing the student’s text: As experienced writers, it can be
difficult to resist the temptation to rewrite certain sentences of a
text because we may feel we can think of a better way to make a
point, a more fitting word in a particular passage, etc. It is more
educational for students, however, to work through problematic
sections of text, even if it takes them several attempts.
• Grammar only: Looking only for grammar errors, and assuming
“good writing” is synonymous with “correct grammar,” can lead
students to learn nothing about more global aspects of writing. If
instructors continually correct these errors for the students, they
do not learn how to find, understand, and self-correct them. Using
codes such as “awk,” “sp,” or “frag,” is problematic when many
students, do not know what these mean. It is more helpful and
educational to identify patterns of grammatical mistakes in a
student’s writing and provide explanations to them as to the ways
in which to fix the particular issue.
• Negative only: Confronted solely with explanations or comments on
negative aspects of their essays, students may wonder if they
have done anything right. If anger, frustration, or sarcasm
appears in comments, students may easily become discouraged
and wonder if the instructor has a personal bias against them.

Marginal vs. Terminal Comments
Marginal comments are either written in the margins or directly in the
text of an essay, whereas terminal comments are usually lengthy and
are written at either the end of the essay or on a separate page.
Marginal comments are more suited for feedback on specific sections of
the text and terminal comments are usually saved for more global
concerns affecting the whole essay. It is important to provide a writer
with both types of comments because their physical positioning allows
you to provide different types of feedback. Although marginal comments
are more suited to feedback on specific sections of the text, terminal
comments are usually saved for larger concerns affecting the entirety of
the essay.
Marginal comments:
• Responding as a Reader: You experience the reading as a person,
not necessarily as a teacher, meaning that your primary concern
is reading and not evaluating.
• Asking Questions: The most effective comments to help students
revise and develop a critical sense are comments worded as
questions. Questions can refer to content, organization, or even
grammar and word choice.
• Noting Patterns: Although our first tendency as graders is to mark
every error, this is overwhelming for the writer. It is more helpful
for students to note patterns in organization, grammar, or
punctuation. Normally it is preferable to explain an error at its first
occurrence and to note its recurrence throughout the paper.
Obviously, you cannot do this for every error, but try to note those
that seem to intrude most on your ability to read the paper
Terminal Comments:
• Positive Comments: Tell the student what you liked about the paper
• Priorities: Do not try to comment on every problem. Limit your
criticisms to a few key concerns so that students are not
• Specific Suggestions: Offer suggestions for how the student can
address the concerns expressed in the comments.
• Notation of Patterns: Note patterns here if you have not already
done so in the margins.
• Suggestions about Resources: Point out resources students can
refer to and/or invite them to come and see you if possible.
Resources might include The Writing Center, peers, yourself, a
grammar handbook, or a content-specific reference.
Unfortunately, there is no formula for the most successful types of
comments, consequently each teacher needs to articulate a conscious
rationale and philosophy for commenting in the way he or she does. In
other words, many different types of comments can work as long as you
understand why you comment in the way you do and how you believe
these comments will help students in the future.

Appendix 2
Guidelines for marking assignments of students SpLD.
What to do
Assess or discuss the level of
correction that the student will
be able to use effectively.
A student with SpLD will be able
to tell you what “works” for
Read quickly to assess ideas,
understanding & knowledge,
ignoring grammar, spelling &
punctuation errors, without
making corrections or
Holistic thinking does not lend
itself to the linear nature of
words; reading quickly may
enable the reader to access the
holistic pattern of thought.
Comment on where the student
has done well and explain why a
particular aspect of the work is
good rather than/as well as
being critical.
Models of good practice and
correct usage are easier to
retain and replicate; students
with SpLD find it difficult to
“read between the lines”.
Explain what is required and
what went wrong; use clear
explicit English avoiding
innuendo, sarcasm and complex
sentences; avoid using
grammatical terms.
A student with SpLD is unlikely
to know how to correct an error
without some guidance or
explanation; they are often
unfamiliar with grammatical
Inform the student if you are
marking for ideas,
understanding and knowledge
and ignoring spelling,
punctuation and grammar.
Absence of lots of corrections
(they are used to a lot!) may
create a false impression of
improvement and can be
demoralising when re-appraisal
If you decide to mark for
spelling, grammar and
punctuation, avoid marking
every error – select and
indicate about four types of
Numerous corrections can be
demoralising; simply correcting
spelling and grammar will not
lead to improvement – helping
the student identify types of
error together with models of
correct usage will help.
Use one colour pen to comment
on ideas, understanding and
knowledge and a different
colour for spelling, punctuation
and grammar. Avoid using red
Anything which helps to
differentiate functions of words
is useful for the student with
SpLD. Red often has negative
associations from school days
and can be demoralising.
Use highlighter pens to indicate
which areas of text “belong
together” if you want to indicate
where changes in structure or
organisation are necessary.
Anything which aids
differentiation of text is helpful;
colour is instantly recognisable
and will give the student an
additional sense of control over
the text.

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