Dialogic use of exemplars

Exemplars or samples of student work are potentially powerful in enabling students to develop a deeper understanding of what good work looks like. A key aim of exposing students to exemplars is to help them appreciate the nature of quality which they can subsequently apply to their own work. The essence of constructive use of exemplars is that students enter into dialogues with peers and teachers so as to develop an enhanced sense of assessment expectations. A key principle of the dialogue is to promote student ownership of this process so as to reduce the risk that students may merely regard an exemplar as a model to be imitated. One way in which student ownership is enhanced is through ‘scaffolded use of exemplars’ in which students work on part of an assessment task prior to exposure to exemplars. By engaging students in assignment-related work before analyzing exemplars, we aim to tackle the challenge that providing an exemplar at the outset might reduce student creativity or limit student aspirations to the kind of approach used in the exemplar (Carless et al., 2018).

Managing an effective exemplars dialogue may be complex, especially when students are distracted by surface level features of a text and find it difficult to appreciate the holistic nature of quality. A sensitively-led teacher orchestrated dialogue can make expert thinking visible and support student appreciation of key features of texts. Our research (Carless & Chan, 2016) suggests that a fruitful exemplars dialogue may:

  • Prioritize elicitation of student opinions and airing of divergent viewpoints;
  • Privilege student thinking and reasoning about the exemplars;
  • Develop linkages between peer talk and whole-class discussion;
  • Evidence some development of student views;
  • Scaffold key qualities of the exemplars.

Key reading:

Carless, D. & K.K.H. Chan (2016). Managing dialogic use of exemplars. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.

Other reference:

Carless, D., Chan, K.K.H., To, J., Lo, M. & E. Barrett (2018). Developing students’ capacities for evaluative judgement through analysing exemplars. In D. Boud, R. Ajjawi, P. Dawson & J. Tai (Eds), Developing Evaluative Judgement in Higher Education: Assessment for knowing and producing quality work. London: Routledge.