Strategies to improve reflection, self-evaluation and student performance in an academic literacies module

Year: 2009

Author: Dube, Cecilia

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper presents the findings from a study in the form of action research (Robson, 1993) involving the use of a combination of strategies to improve performance in an academic literacies course at the University of Johannesburg. Because the subjects were enrolled in a first-year extended degree programme, which meant that they were considered as insufficiently prepared for university study, writing tasks were based on Elbow's (1997) notion of low- and high-stakes writing. Emphasis was on low-stakes writing which, according to Elbow and Sorcinelli (2007), mitigates the tension associated with high-stakes, stringently marked tasks. The course was assessed continuously, with most tasks being for marks, but the total number of possible marks was deliberately kept low in order not to lose out on the positive effects of low-stakes writing. The tutors gave extensive feedback on each task, after which students could rework the tasks, incorporating this feedback, for higher marks. An earlier study, the results of which were presented at a Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of South Africa (HELTASA) conference in 2006, had shown that making students track their own progress from one week to the next by recording the marks earned for each piece of work and then evaluating and reflecting on their own performance resulted in some students taking responsibility for their own work and striving to improve on past performance. However, in that exercise, the reflection and self-evaluation were more or less voluntary as there was little or no input from the tutors. The purpose of the present study was to include tutor feedback and monitoring in the process in order to assess what effect this would have on the consistency and quality of students' reflection and evaluation of their work. The tutors collected students' assessment sheets after each graded task and responded by giving guidance where necessary. Students' comments as well as any feedback on them from tutors were analysed qualitatively for evidence of improvement in the meta-cognitive skills of reflection and self-evaluation. At the end of the study, it was found that the quality of students' self-evaluation and self-reflection gradually improved and seemed to have a positive effect on overall performance. The overall conclusion arrived at in this paper is that extrinsic motivational factors (in the form of marks) can be successfully used to develop intrinsic motivation, the latter being demonstrated through students' engaging increasingly more meaningfully in evaluating and reflecting on their performance.

Key Phrase: English Education, Literacy and Languages (including TESOL, LOTE and ESL)