Assessment & the Expanded text: Current assessment practice 2 – Portfolios, Project work

Assessment, Student portfolios


‘The diversity of material and approaches, as well as programme objectives which value choice and independence of mind, suggest that it is desirable for students of English to experience a variety of assessment forms.’ (CCUE/QAA: 1999).

Current Assessment Practice is a searchable index of assessment practices across the Higher Education English community. It provides examples of the assessment practices the draft subject benchmarking document suggests might be profitably used to achieve such diversity.

All the assessment practices included in Current Assessment Practice are used by English and Related Studies tutors in the Higher Education sector. Initially current assessment practices in the four departments of English making up the Assessment and the Expanded Text project were documented and analysed. Each member of staff was invited to describe an assessment design they currently used, and to reflect on any factors affecting its development and use. Tutors were also invited to comment on the impact the design had on their students. The survey produced forty six replies from tutors across the consortium, nine of which included the assessment of group work and presentation. We later extended our survey to all university departments whose assessment methods were cited as ‘good practice’ in the English subject review reports (HEFCE: 1994-5). As a result members of staff in a further seventeen departments provided details.

  1. using Creative Writing strategies to improve critical writing
  2. Using a portfolio to assess breadth and depth of subject knowledge including relevant contextual knowledge and the demonstration of powers of textual analysis.

1. Using Creative Writing strategies to improve critical writing

In this example the portfolio is intended to a space where students record, reflect and select their coursework. It can be as long as they like. They can rewrite seminar work so it’s all one thing, or they can include lots of snippets and cut ups of their own work. By adopting this approach the students are encouraged to investigate theories for themselves. The portfolio provides them with the opportunity to apply principles to things which interest them, rather than having a prescribed question to answer. This approach has hindered the less imaginative students who expect to be taught in a traditional way and freed up the students for whom learning is about self discovery and textual bliss

Assessment design: 4, 000 word portfolio of exercises; 2,000 word essay/creative piece on a short story of their choice
University of East Anglia, level 2
Title of unit: Texts and textuality

The aim of the course is to build on the work done in a first year course, Concepts in Literary Studies, to extend student ability to engage with intellectual and textual complexity and to manage the subjective in their own writing. Working in lectures and small seminar groups, students focus on texts and textuality. They study how texts work and how they move in time. They experiment with writing styles such as imitation, parody and with translation and theories of translation. They look at stylistics and the historical study of style, structural and semiotic theories, reader-response and post- structuralist theory, gender, class and representation and examine the histories of writing and publishing.

The students are expected to produce creative and critical work in class or at home which is then read back to the class in seminars which are run in the same way as creative writing groups. The 4,000 word portfolio includes copy of the exercises done for class. Students are encouraged to edit these pieces in ways which shows a development of learning. They are also asked to write a 2, 000 word essay or creative piece on a short story of their choice. Marks are awarded for imaginative application of concepts, evidence of comprehension of the theoretical principles and the quality and control of the creative writing.

The use of workshops to discuss and redraft work and assessment by portfolio makes explicit to students that skills they might associate with Creative Writing can enhance their critical thinking. Tutors use the creative writing portfolio to stress the importance of applying theory in practice and of reflecting on that application. Implicit in the workshop method is the belief that by presenting their work in progress students are likely to increase both their understanding of critique as a genre and develop skills of persuasion, negotiation and argument which improve their essay writing.

2. Using a portfolio to assess breadth and depth of subject knowledge including relevant contextual knowledge and the demonstration of powers of textual analysis.

In this practice students are assessed summatively by essay but record their progress and development via a portfolio. Students use the portfolio to practice collecting, arranging and interpreting a wide range of texts. They are encouraged to use the portfolio to identify themes and issues. Feedback is provided in time set aside in seminars.

The unit is an introduction to different modes of thinking about and representing the city: the full title of the unit is The City, Real and Imagined. It asks students to be flexible in their approaches – reading and discussing history texts, artworks, literature, media texts, sociology. To help the first years through these various approaches and present them with some challenging material, an emphasis has been placed on the experiential, as counterbalance to the textual.

Assessment design: portfolio with commentary (30 per cent), essay plan and bibliography (20 per cent), 1, 500 word essay (50 per cent) .

University of East London, level one, 20 credits

The portfolio allows students to sample the experiential. A student might, for example, undertake a study of their feelings and experiences in their locality, reflecting on how and why the locality is at it is and how they move through it and why. At the same time the portfolio is flexible enough to let students take further any one of the approaches introduced to them on the unit. The portfolio can assume many forms. It might be a scrapbook of materials collected from media sources. It can include or be comprised substantially of interviews on audio or video tape. It can include photographs taken by students or photomontages. All of these forms have been presented to the students in the teaching sessions. Professionals (mainly film makers and photographers) have come in to the lecture sessions and workshop sessions and have introduced projects that they are working on in connection with the city. Whatever form the student chooses for their project they must include a written commentary that outlines the theme chosen and reflects on how the themes relate to materials presented on the unit, as well as materials included in the course reader.

These students come to university fairly media literate. For this reason a portfolio that allows the creation of media texts as part of its remit enables them to begin thinking about and working with new ideas in a more familiar context. It builds on skills that they come with. It is still to be seen if the theory matches the practice.

The portfolio is flexible enough to let students take further any one of the approaches introduced to them on the unit. The flexibility of the assessment makes it well suited to diverse classes including people from very different backgrounds, abilities and with very different study profiles. The portfolio is also researched and compiled across the semester, giving plenty of opportunity for feedback, advice, tutorial sessions. Time is built into the programme for seminar and workshop feedback and final presentation of results.

The extent to which the commentary embeds the project in the themes of the unit and in the analytical forms introduced by the unit, forms a crucial measure of the portfolio’s success or failure in terms of marks out of 100. The portfolio must explicitly locate the debate in the themes of the unit, and show evidence of wider research — in media archives or libraries, and must demonstrate an ability to seek out and generate relevant material.

Project work