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Assessment for learning: questions – a feedback practice we learned from Socrates


This is the second post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series, as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018. Read about AfL in the initial series post.

Can providing feedback in the form of questions be an effective method of assessment? As an undergraduate student, I received feedback on my papers in the form of direct suggestions or compliments. For example, one instructor encouraged me to further situate my argument in theory and another praised the clarity of my introduction. However, I often wondered if instructors’ comments could somehow have been written so as to help me develop my own understanding of my papers’ strengths and areas for improvement, rather than giving me solutions or praise. Maybe giving students feedback in the form of questions rather than comments would inspire us to think more deeply about our work. What if my instructor had written: “How might Hume’s paper, a work you didn’t examine, either strengthen or undermine your argument?” A question like that would have made me go back to my writing to look at a theory I hadn’t considered and I would have made significant improvements to my paper! Maybe Socrates was onto something with his elenctic method …

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. One student described how their instructor had given them a novel type of feedback on a research paper assignment – the feedback was in the form of questions that called upon them to explore the paper’s potential areas for development. This method of providing feedback initiated a dialogue between the student and instructor; it also prompted the student to critically reflect on their work and encouraged them to engage in revision through self-assessment. Listen to what they say.

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy: Feedback in the form of dialogue can also entail students asking the questions. Read about an interactive cover sheet strategy where instructor comments are guided by student questions.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

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