Teaching Learners to Notice (2)

Royce Sadler discussed assessment practices in a presentation at the University of Canberra today.

In his introduction Royce noted his concerns with feedback and suggested that we must think differently about how to support learners.

Royce’s presentation was based on a late draft of a book chapter.

His first points were about formative and summative assessment and Michael Scriven’s work. In his presentation Royce contemplated the assessment of complex works. (See Royce’s 1989 paper on some of these issues.)

He discussed the characteristics of feedback and noted that it entails “our reactions to the quality of students’ work that includes marks, comments, and discussions.” It is “information we give that we hope will help”.

Royce argued that feedback is labour intensive and intellectually demanding. We know that students will receive our comments cold away from our presence. This places an emotive load on the teacher and raises as an issue our sensitivity to ‘student as a person’.   Royce suggests that this is a high investment of labour and has a low return. Some students appear to have a recurring issue that remains unchanged by feedback.

Royce noted the work from the 1960s onwards research on feedback (for a summary, see, for example, Royce’s 2010 paper Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal).

Some students focus on marks rather than the feedback they receive and dilute their responsibility for improvement. Some students make strategic decisions about satisfying a unit’s minimumrequirements.

Royce noted that the literature identifies some basic feedback guidelines:

  • What was good.
  • What was weak and where it was weak.
  • What could have been better.
  • Future practice.

Royce observed that “feedback is about telling … that is the problem”. He discussed this dilemma and noted its roots in the transmission model of education. He proposed an alternative model in which teachers were the bridge in students’ journeys from what they know to incorporating information they did not know to develop their knowledge.

Royce addressed assessment’s role in learning. In his 1989 paper he argued that works of high quality require a reference. Thus a student who is developing his or her work is able to compare quality of the work she or he is producing.  He suggested that competent learners know how to monitor development of their work.  They are able to attend to their work as a whole and to small scale items that need attention. High quality producers move between these two spaces effortlessly.

This led Royce to discuss the characteristics of expertise. These include:

  • Preliminary tentative ideas of goals and strategies
  • Then clarity through noticing the things that matter.
  • Proceed instinctively, self-questioning with subtlety and precision.
  • Able to sense weakness and incompleteness.
  • Able to self identify mistakes, detect inconsistencies, and lapses in continuity.
  • Able to sense the users of material.
  • Exhibit contingency management.
  • Have a personal repertoire of moves.

Royce argued that ‘traditional’ assessment practices require the assessor to judge a problem, repair the response and give advice. Yet these are a student’s responsibility.  He argued forcefully that Noticing is a key to student flourishing.

In developing his argument about noticing, Royce pointed to Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scradamalia’s (1993) Surpassing Ourselves: An Inquiry into the Nature and  Implications of Expertise; Bruner’s discussion of concept acquisition; Wittgenstein, and Polanyi amongst others.  He referred too to Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus’s (2005) discussion of expertise:

Contrary to the claims of knowledge engineers, we argue that expertise in general, and medical expertise in particular, cannot be captured in rule-based expert systems, since expertise is based on the making of immediate, unreflective situational responses; intuitive judgment is the hallmark of expertise. Deliberation is certainly used by experts, if time permits, but it is done for the purpose of improving intuition, not replacing it. The best way to avoid mistakes is to take responsibility for them when they occur, rather than try to prevent them by foolproof rules.

Royce mentioned Paul Meehl’s work on configural seeing in the context of expertise too.

Royce concluded his presentation with a discussion of feedback in relation to Lev Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (“the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers”). This led to Royce sharing a story about his own development as a teacher learning through practice.

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6 thoughts on “Teaching Learners to Notice (2)”

  1. Thanks, Keith – I was only there for the first part, so maybe I missed it – but where was the research? e.g., Royce’s claim that “the impact of
    feedback often seems negligible” seemed to be a key premise, yet seems quite contrary to meta-analytic findings about the impact of feedback.

    1. Thanks for this point, James. i will revisit my notes. There was a reference to a meta-analysis in the talk.


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