Case Study 3


This case study focused on an interactive teaching session which was co-delivered by two members of staff in a tiered lecture hall.

It involved 78 final year students, who were in their fourteenth week of study on a year-long module.

By the time of the workshop, students had been introduced to important ways of thinking and practising in the subject domain via lectures, seminar activities and required reading and group discussion tasks. Students were now working on identifying their self-selected topic for their final 4,000 word assignment, a critical review of primary texts which the students were also responsible for choosing.

 It was two months before their summative work on this module was due in. While no one had started to write their assignment, a few had begun to draw up rough plans, which they were bringing to tutorial discussions. All students had also had the opportunity to hand in a formative piece of work, and had received tutor-feedback comments which were focused on feeding forward to the final assignment.

What was the rationale for trying to boost feedback at this point?

Based on previous experience of teaching the module, tutors were conscious that the opportunity to choose their own topic, while relished by some students, threw other students into consternation. Successful students tended to pick something of particular personal interest, whilst others tended to rely on and regurgitate taught course material and, hence, tried to cover too much territory in their assignment,  rather than selecting a feasible focus which offered them more scope for in-depth work and critical analysis. Three anonymised exemplars of previous students’ work from a former module, which were all somewhat shorter than the existing one and had been written to a slightly different brief, were chosen to exemplify different ways in which the essays addressed (or failed to address) the current assessment criteria.

The two hour session was then set up in the following way:

Explaining the rationale for the session

At the start of the session tutors briefly explained the broad rationale for the workshop, and the ways in which they hoped students would benefit from the activities. These included giving students the opportunity to

  • engage actively with the assessment criteria which would be used to evaluate the module’s assignment
  • discuss with tutors why and how the criteria can be applied to the exemplar essays
  • see concrete examples of effective and less effective ways of producing a critically evaluative review
  • further develop their experience in making qualitative judgments and generating feedback
  • develop insights which would enable them to evaluate the quality of their own writing plans, in time to make adjustments, if necessary

Focusing on the assessment criteria

Next, tutors shared and discussed the published assessment criteria that would be used to evaluate the summative assignment, mapped against the generic grade boundaries used on the degree programme. These were turned into questions students could ask themselves when trying to form judgments about the quality of each exemplar in the resource pack provided.

Ranking the exemplars

Students were then asked to work individually on the exemplars, reading them through several times and making notes about the things they noticed about each one. They were asked to do this in silence, as they would in exam conditions, so that people could concentrate. They were also asked not to write on the scripts themselves, which were all collected in at the end of the session.

Once they had finished, students were invited to complete the first element on a worksheet, which asked them to place the three exemplars in rank order, starting with the ‘best’.

Writing a review and producing feedback comments

Students were then invited, on the next part of their worksheet, to create an individual review for each of the three examples in turn. They were asked to be constructive: highlighting any strengths they observed in each exemplar and generating feedback comments which would help the student-writer of each piece to improve their work yet further.  They were reminded of the importance of using the criteria to help compile each review.

Opening up assessment and feedback dialogues

Once the students had completed their reviews, tutors went about the  ‘reveal.’ They did this by asking students to go through each exemplar with them one by one, imagining where they thought each would be placed if it were a cursor on a spectrum from ‘most effective’ to ‘least effective’. They did this in the form of a game show, with students calling out and gesturing whether they thought the cursor should be moved higher or lower for each. During the process, tutors revealed and discussed their views of each exemplar, identifying the feedback that they would offer to help move each exemplar’s cursor further towards the upper end of the spectrum. They also encouraged students to think about any ‘surprises,’ and allowed plenty of time for students to return to have another look at the three examples, and discuss them with their peers, in the light of what they had just heard.

Throughout this phase, and at the end, students were encouraged to ask any questions and request any points for clarification.

The session rounded off with a five minute paper, with students being asked to make a note of the key things they had discovered during the workshop. This material provided teaching staff with information which helped them adjust future sessions to meet students’ needs.


Students were invited to complete a brief survey. All but one of the participating students were overwhelmingly satisfied with the session. 29 of 30 who responded to the survey said they were going to make changes to their approach to the critical review as a result.

Comments included:

I learnt how important it is to propose a rationale and to stick to it throughout to allow for a deep analysis which flows well. Analsye (sic) not describe.

I discovered what to put in an assignment and what not to put in. How to boost my mark up.

How to be more critical rather than descriptive. How to structure the assignment. How to go straight to the point.

I now have a clearer view of what is expected in this assignment. Thank you 🙂

I now feel ready to start my assignment. The best help! 🙂