(Re-)examining the essay: alternative approaches to writing assessment

Forskningsoutput: KonferensbidragMuntlig presentation


As teachers of English, we guide our students through various courses in which the essay is often a privileged form of examination. Building on previous work (Freij & Ahlin 2014) in which we have argued for the importance of indirect feedback as key to encouraging critical thinking about and engagement with the text, as well as an important aspect of the acculturation into academia (see Freij and Ahlin 2014, 2015), we explore here non-traditional ways of examining skills pertaining to critical writing and -thinking. We have previously, inspired by the work of Diane Pecorari on the sequencing of micro-objectives (“Reverse engineering an essay,” 2014), argued that lecturers may find it increasingly important to structure tasks and assessment items in a manner that takes into account the multiple skills needed to complete them successfully, in order to avoid becoming what Hairston, already in 1986, called “composition slaves”. We see the teaching of transferable skills as crucial for the creation of autonomous students. In addition, central to the process of essay writing and the acquisition of transferable skills are clear identification and sequencing of the micro-objectives involved. Thus, students may practice the skills that they need, while building on gradually acquired/previous knowledge.

This paper continues our previous work, and takes the first steps toward creating a bank of exercises that train the subskills of critical writing and -thinking. By moving away from the essay as the be all and end all of assessment, we are taking further steps towards identifying common ground: the hope is that our suggestions are not limited to the humanities, but can be used across the curriculum to strengthen the base on which students’ knowledge is built.

Notably, as we are not merely concerned with students’ completion of individual tasks, but in their meta-cognition, which includes “reflection, self-knowledge of strengths and weaknesses, learning strategies, and monitoring learning” (Billing 2007, p. 486), the exercises presented here are not to be seen as a ‘remedy’ or a ‘quick fix’; rather, they are to be used as stepping stones and preferably integrated into a context that allows for progression over a substantial period of time.

In other words, we argue that student autonomy and metacognition should be developed from the very beginning of our study programs. To reach this goal, our approach includes teaching students the “third language” from the bottom up (Freij and Ahlin 2015), which means viewing the tertiary experience as manifold. Returning to our adaptation of Wenger’s theory, we will discuss academic language not just from a point of view of producing the end result, but academic language as the key to 1) belonging in the academic community; 2) becoming a writer with a scholarly identity; 3) understanding writing as a meaning-making practice; and 4) performing scholarly practice and -identity (adapted from Wenger 1998).

StatusPublicerad - 2016
EvenemangJoint presentation with Maria Freij, Malmö University, NU 2016 Högskolan i Samhället—Samhället i Högskolan, June 14 -16, 2016. -
Varaktighet: 1980-jan-01 → …


KonferensJoint presentation with Maria Freij, Malmö University, NU 2016 Högskolan i Samhället—Samhället i Högskolan, June 14 -16, 2016.
Period80-01-01 → …

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