Written exercise with peer assessment

Subject: Dramaturgy. Course: Analysis of Works 1. Study level: BA, 1st semester. Class size: 50-70. 

Motivation for the activity

The background for the exercise is an interim evaluation, in which the students expressed a wish for an alternative to oral presentations as a summation of their analytical exercises, as well as the need to train their written academic competence ahead of their first exam.

Central learning outcomes for the course

The exam is an individual, set and graded written assignment of 9-11 pages where

  • the student must acquire an understanding of the analysis of dramatic works of art as a problem area and practice
  • the students must be able to apply dramaturgical theory in the analysis of selected works.

Central learning outcomes for the activity

The activity is particularly suitable in the analytic disciplines that are concluded with a written assignment.

The aims of the activity

  1. that the students train their skill at written communication of an analysis of a selected work
  2. that the students hone their analytical precision by undergoing several repetitions with feedback of the same analysis
  3. that the students acquire an understanding of the requirements for the written academic assignment
  4. that the students develop their ability to respond critically and constructively to one another's work.

Description of the activity

  1. I formulate an analysis question to a drama text on the basis of the recently studied theory (in this example narrative theory)
  2. The class receives the analysis question and the official guidelines and I introduce the students to writing an assignment
  3. The class analyses the drama text in their study groups based on the question (possibly in student teacher lessons)
  4. The study groups work together in Google Docs to write a 5-6 page presentation of the analysis corresponding to the main section in the examination. This means that each group (approx. 5-6 persons) submits one assignment in the joint conference approx. one week later
  5. I prepare an assessment guide for the class (see appendix), which is available at the next lesson
  6. On the day in question the class is divided into pairs, and they are each given one or two group assignments and an assessment guide. The pairs assess the assignments based on the guide and write comments in the document with a joint statement (with a points system, see Guidelines for peer assessment) at the end. I am present and answer queries and help them clarify difficult assessments
  7. The groups are asked to rewrite their analysis on the basis of the response and add an introduction and conclusion. They have approx. a week for this
  8. I respond in writing to all of the group responses (approx. 10 responses) before the examination.

Example of an analysis question

Present a study of the narrative construction of Ibsen's Ghosts.

  • How is the story in the drama structured in a discourse and with what effects?
  • How do the different perspectives of the dramatic characters relate to one another and how is the perspective of the reader/spectator focalised in relation to the the perspective of  the characters?
  • Finally, how does the playwright’s voice come to expression in the drama?

The study shall result in an assessment of what the narrative construction means for the aesthetic enunciation of the play. The response to the questions should be substantiated by in-depth analysis of individual scenes.

Outcome of the activity

The primary aim was to clarify the requirements for the academic assignment, both in relation to language and formalities, but also in relation to conceptual precision, analytical thoroughness and independence.

The point was also to prepare a written assignment that did not require me to respond to 60-70 individual, short written exercises, which I consider to be uneconomic, both in relation to time and learning outcomes.

My impression is that the actual assessment session is very useful. Following the exercise the students appear to be much more clarified in relation to what and how much we require of them at the exam.

According to them, the fact that they are "forced" into the role of strict assessors sharpens their insight into their texts more than if I had just commented on them. Furthermore, the assessment session gives rise to some very precise questions and good clarifying discussions on the academic genre, which is why I think it is very important that the lecturer is present during this part.

In the assessment exercise they were able to score between 0 and 3 points. The majority scored 0, a few scored 1. On the other hand, they were clearly more meticulous and aware of the genre's requirements at the second iteration (the one I commented on subsequently).

Reflections on the activity

The crucial factor is, of course, the quality of the assessment guide.

On one hand it must be clear enough for the class, so they consider it to be understandable and reasonable criteria. On the other hand, it must be sufficiently open to allow variations and independence in the answers and to activate the assessors’ independent decision-making in the assessment situation.

It must not avoid or hide the grey areas that there can be in relation to assessments of academic assignments.

It took the pairs approx. 45 minutes to assess and comment on one assignment.

The points element can - and has been- discussed. Some are happy with the points, even though the point grading scale was very strict, because it sends a clear signal about some of the minimum requirements. Others felt pressured and forced into a competitive situation, where they did not know the rules of the game in advance.

The intention from my side is not to motivate the students through an element of competition, but to signal some realistic thresholds between the inadequate, the acceptable and the good. A simple further development could be to replace the numerical points system with an assessment in three categories (according to the same numeration system corresponding to 0, 1, 2 in the guide): inadequate, acceptable, good.