Students' responses to learning-oriented exemplars: towards sustainable feedback in the first year experience?

Kay Sambell, Linda Graham, Peter Beven

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper presents findings from a three-year action-research project that focused on enhancing first-year students' engagement with exemplars. The exemplars were explicitly designed as pedagogic tools located within the taught curriculum to engage students proactively in feedback processes based on formative activities around their developing subject knowledge. Despite the large numbers of students (n=100+ students per iteration), activities were carefully designed to offer dialogic exemplars-based opportunities for students to make sense of information from varied sources which they could then use to enhance the quality of their work and learning strategies, as opposed to providing students with conventional teacher-directed feedback/feedforward comments. Importantly, the selected samples (representing a quality range) took the form of formative writing-to-learn exercises, in marked contrast with the more conventional use of samples drawn from summative tasks. This had a major bearing on the teachers' confidence in focusing the samples and associated dialogic activities on feedback processes that were directly linked to evaluating relevant subject knowledge in advance of summative testing. Students were required, in preparation for the workshop, to undertake the same task, and activities based on comparing their work with the samples formed the basis of a two-hour teaching session. In effect, then, this positioned the exemplars as pre-emptive formative assessment, contrasting strongly with the approach reported in many exemplars-based studies, where samples are often selected for student analysis and discussion to represent the genre of the imminent summative assessment, but on different topic areas, for fear of imitation or stifling students' creativity. In sympathy with sustainable feedback, the teachers' focus throughout was on trying to develop first-year students' evaluative judgment within the discipline. Findings, based on surveys, interviews and reflective diaries, illuminated ways in which, however, in the early iterations of the three-year action research cycle, over half of the students became confused and distracted by what Hawe et al. refer to as the 'mechanics' of assessment. Thus in the final cycle the same activities were reframed to promote the development of evaluative judgment even more explicitly, by involving students in the prior co-construction of rubrics. Results revealed dramatic changes in the ways in which students interpreted the same activities, given this further shift towards pedagogic discourse. These will be reported and linked to the literature, offering critical insights into the growing body of work on students' responses to exemplars and sustainable feedback procedures.


Conference7th International Assessment in Higher Education Conference
Abbreviated titleAHE 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period28/06/18 → …
Internet address


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