Words of Wisdom:

"Life is just a series of speed bumps." - Brendanpec

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  • Date Submitted: 01/10/2011 12:35 AM
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At the coal face: critical reflections on two tutors’ formative assessment practices under pressure.

Billy Meyer and Penny Niven

The context for this research was an Academic Literacy course at the UKZN. The course is part of a broader Access (Foundation) Programme, which is designed to help 1st year, mostly Zulu First language students from impoverished educational backgrounds adjust to the reading and writing requirements of a Humanities or Social Sciences degree in English. We (the writers) are both tutors on this course, sharing the teaching of some 75 ‘Access’ students. During the first semester of 2006 the outcomes of this course were, initially, that the students develop a broad grasp of the notion of ‘genre’ and gain exposure to several varieties of spoken and written genres. Secondly, we focused on writing in one particular genre – the formal academic essay. During the final weeks of the semester, the students were extensively supported in the writing of a first draft, an optional second draft, and then a final version of this essay. The students were required to read and then write from a variety of source materials, describing the role of radio and television in shaping the lives of South Africans before and after 1994. We responded extensively, and, we hoped, formatively, to the first drafts of the essays but only graded the final versions.

In this paper, we report on the first stage of a cyclical, small-scale, critical action research project. Action research fitted well with our intentions because it aims to understand and improve on particular aspects of professional, educational practice – in this case, the quality and nature of our written formative feedback on essays. Action research usually takes place within “…a relatively circumscribed domain” (Carr and Kemis, 1986: 205). In this case the context is an existing group of 1st year students and their written essays. Besides being an“activist”...


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