Teaching and Learning Forum 96 [ Contents ]

Can assignment assessment sheets promote learning and performance?

Peter Radloff
Behavioural Health Science, School of Nursing
Curtin University of Technology


We can try as hard as we like to improve elements of the teaching learning process, but unless we accept that it is assessment that drives the curriculum and controls learning, our efforts will be less effective than we would wish. Assessment makes necessary the clear specification of exactly what is required from any particular task, any assignment, by using highly detailed and clear criteria and objectives. If you fail to do this then you will rediscover what Norton Dickins and Cook (1995) drew attention to - students using implicit Rules of the Game (ROGs) which are:
... student tactics for enhancing the probability of obtaining a good mark on coursework essays; they are implicit and unspoken and can, therefore, be contrasted with the criteria that students are told will lead to good marks. Rules of the Game are also factors which students believe will affect tutors, probably unconsciously, when they mark essays. Because of this largely unaware element, ROGs differ from explicit criteria in that they are not necessarily what tutors communicate to their students
Norton Dickins and Cook (1995, p.4)
While you may not realise you are promoting Rules of the Game, your students will. They will collectively support, recognise and appreciate a set of beliefs, and if they are deemed to be effect outcomes, these beliefs will control student behaviour. Unless we acknowledge this intrinsic system of controls, we will be in no position to influence learning.

Among many others, Snyder (1971) also points to a "hidden curriculum" of student perceptions at MIT closer to the reality of requirements for successful achievement than that stated position by instructors. More recently, Bergenegouwen (1987) has supported the same position. Perhaps it requires another student revolt to make the point that was not properly heard in the 1960s - that students want to count not as computer ID numbers, but as full members of the academic community. Those of us operating within the tertiary education framework need to consider seriously the question of the student estate: how to fashion a context that would make students able to join in a common community of learning, able to make a serious contribution to the whole. This them-and-us attitude, this tertiary "apartheid" divides us at present, and is doing considerable damage to teaching and learning, and to scholarship in its broadest sense. The deeply irrational antipathy shown by many tertiary instructors towards students is supported by an all too prevalent, compliant staff clubbism. Unless the student estate issue is addressed, the effort contributed by academic staff to teaching and learning, will reap only a poor harvest of student academic achievement. And the position of those universities failing to address real issues of student support will be even further degraded. Taking this question seriously is probably the most important contribution any university can offer to its community, to its stakeholders. Keeping this in mind, how can we address, in a still imperfect world, practical assessment issues?

Ramsden (1992) refers to interventions to increase students' use of "deep approaches" in studying which actually led to them adopting "surface" strategies. These instances illustrate the difficulty of changing students' approaches to study by methods imposed upon them, approaches which are extrinsic to the learners. It becomes clear that even where it should be obvious to students that their best interests lie in taking what the instructor is planning seriously, their prior negative experiences makes them sceptical. John Cowan reverting to the role of student, from being Director for the Open University in Scotland, puts the problem very clearly: "When you govern the three components of the assessment process, sensible students like me will prostitute the system to our best advantage" whereas "If you leave it to me to determine both my goals and my standards even within a fairly restricted remit, the influence on my learning will be profound" (Cowan 1991, p.54). Acknowledging that the quality of feedback given to students "differentiated most effectively between the best and worst courses - in the Australian teaching performance indicator study," Ramsden (1992, p. 99) should sharpen the attention we commit to feedback in general, and feedback regarding assignments in particular.


As an example of assignment assessment we will consider students in the post registration Nursing degree programme, doing Behavioural Science 366, the last unit in the final semester of their programme. Dealing with interpersonal communication and behaviour management procedures it concentrates on applicable skills for managing clients within a health-wellness setting. A major strategy used is to base the development of skills for managing others upon self management methods. To this end assignments involve keeping a detailed personal journal, carrying out one practical on the analysis of interpersonal processes in small group communication, and two self-management interventions. Emphasis is placed on regular writing, structured diary as well as narrative entries; and planning, developing and drafting assignments. The textbook for this unit, Watson and Tharp (1992) is also written around the assumption that students will be developing a self-management journal.

The three practical assignments are each assessed using the same format, which had been used before, but was further developed over about three years up to 1983, in the context of supervising Speech and Hearing Students at Curtin. The design was based upon the actual requirements as set out in journal editorial format, specifically the APA Publication manual (American Psychological Association 1994) was used. Resta (1972) was also useful in the design process. The format has been refined over the years in response to student feedback.

The version presented (see attached) uses eight categories, seven covering the required sections of a practical report or paper, with the eighth covering general features of the presentation, the literary and stylistic features. Each category is scored on an 11 point scale from 0 to 10. (Effectively this is a 10 point scale since 0 is usually only assigned if a category is omitted.)

In practice students are encouraged to prepare their assignments while keeping the assessment form in mind. The forms are available early in the Semester, and reference is made to particular components, at intervals, throughout the Semester. The combination of journalling, completing structured diary entries, and regular rating of anxiety (as in SUD scores, or Index of Discomfort measures etc) levels for particular interventions; and the emphasis upon the need to do regular writing also helps by providing structure to support the completion of components of each assignment. The insistence on handing in drafts of the completed assignment was also useful in that this shapes behaviour towards a cyclical or spiral process of assignment completion.

Student feedback

Students evaluate Behavioural Science 366 regularly using the CEQ, SAT, and a specially designed form that solicits comments, and ratings of elements of the Unit. One Feedback question that asks "Overall the assessment sheet was" 0- of little value to 10-highly relevant and applicable led to a Median of 8 and Mode of 9. Comments made in response to the question: Give one or more points for and/or against the way assignment assessment sheets are used in this unit led to responses such as: Among the few less positive comments were:

A transparent curriculum?

Students trained to self assess are advantaged in that they will be better able to prepare, write and submit papers for publication in professional journals. The structure of the assessment form, and the availability of feedback, is designed to model the experience of submitting papers for publication in a professional journal. Shaping student experiences in this way is likely to enable them to respond appropriately when receiving feedback from journal editors. The unit is structured to support journalling, planning, feedback on preliminary drafts by using established, detailed and clear criteria. This promotes student successfully completing the unit. It is also designed to develop work habits that can transfer to actual professional behaviour after graduation.

The use of a personal journal together with the preparation of intervention assignments based upon material already collected and worked on in the journal is designed to be a close approximation of the working habits of health professionals who typically keep laboratory or clinical notebooks or journals, and transcribe and rework these so that they are in a good position to publish their clinical or research findings without undue additional effort.

Shaping the curriculum towards a real world context provides the discipline and relevance sometimes lacking in assignments. It is one way of convincing students that a real curriculum applies so that their efforts are engaged to master that rather to play games in a hidden pretend world.


Students find the assessment form useful. It is suitable for any applied or practical situation. The following points can serve as a summary:
  1. Where students have support to develop skill in using the form in self-assessment through regular practice, and with peer or instructor feedback, they rapidly develop self-assessment skill.

  2. Having students working in groups provides a reciprocal peer feedback context that supports self-assessment.. This quickly develops self-assessment skills.

  3. Designing assignments to model real world application provides credibility and actively engages students.


American Psychological Association (1994). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 4th ed. Washington, DC: Author.

Bergenhenegouwen, G. (1987). Hidden curriculum in the university. Higher Education, 16, 535-543.

Cowan, J. (1991, January). Reflections on self assessment. In S. Brown and P. Dove (Eds.), Self and Peer Assessment. Standing Conference on Educational Development, Paper 63. Newcastle: SCED Publications, Newcastle Polytechnic Educational Development Service.

Norton, T., Dickins, T. and Cook, N. McL. (1995). Coursework assessment: What are tutors really looking for? 3rd International Improving Student Learning Symposium: Using research to improve student learning, 11th-13th September, 1995. St Luce's Campus University of Exeter.

Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to teach in higher education. London: Routledge.

Resta, P. E. (1972). The research report. In R. L. Baker and R. E. Schutz (eds.), Instructional product research. New York: American Book Company, Van Nostrand Reinhold. pp. 233-292.

Snyder, B. R. (1971). The hidden curriculum. New York: Knopf.

Watson, D. L. & Tharp, R. G.. (1992). Self-directed behavior: Self modification for personal adjustment. (6th ed.). Pacific Grove. CA: Brooks/Cole.

Behavioural Science 366: Final behaviour management assignment

Presented by:________________________________________________________

Circle the number chosen for each item
1Title: Concise, specifies context, general problem, variables, relationships and method within about 12-20 words.
2%Jumbled too long or too sketchy012345678910Covers all points
2Abstract: A paragraph of about 150 words, states context problem, design, subjects, data collection procedures, results and conclusions.
8%Incomplete or confused; inappropriate012345678910Ideally suited for use in abstracting journal
3Introduction: Outlines and critically reviews previous research, sets research problem in theoretical context, defines key variables and provides problem statement and objectives and hypotheses (if relevant).
15%Sketchy, patchy or overinclusive transcription of previous work012345678910Outstanding, constructively covers all points
4Methodology: Covers subjects and sampling procedure, apparatus, measuring instruments, design, procedure for data collection and statistical analyses used; ideally applies novel or imaginative research method, uses logical approach, innovative or novel procedures instruments or designs.
15%Stereotyped, inappropriate, poor012345678910Imaginative, appropriate, or original procedures used
5Results: Data objectively presented, appropriate use of diagrams, figures, captions, titles legends.
20%Incomplete, inaccurate or inappropriate012345678910Complete and appropriate data figures, tables and statistics
6Discussion: Insightful interpretation of results in relation to theory, hypotheses, and major findings. Limitations of study and implication for future work treated.
20%Results neither clearly grasped nor clearly interpreted012345678910Sophisticated interpretation leading to new understanding
7References and citation method: Appropriate selection of sources. Correct format throughout.
10%Inconsistent or inappropriate012345678910Completely correct
8Presentation (literary and stylistic): Clear direct style.Well organised, logically set out, ideas well sequenced with appropriate use of appendices etc. Clear direct style. Margins, pagination, headings, captions, title page, contents, index etc. as appropriate neatly tabulated and presented.
10%Unclear, muddled, language & disorganised poor integration012345678910Clear, concise, direct, well organised, presented, integrated
* Weighting

Please cite as: Radloff, P. (1996). Can assignment assessment sheets promote learning and performance? In Abbott, J. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Teaching and Learning Within and Across Disciplines, p135-139. Proceedings of the 5th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1996. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1996/radloffp.html

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