Practices to nurture self-evaluation with foundation year nursing students and the role this plays in their learning development

Rachel Stead, School of Health Sciences

A little background and context…

We are approaching the end of our 3rd cohort of foundation year nursing students, where our primary aim is to lay the groundworks for our students to become resourceful and self-reliant over and above the learning of content. It’s important to note that we by no means achieve or expect to achieve this in the foundation year alone but rather start to make habitual those processes which will lead to more self-regulated and independent learners as they progress through the 4 years of their programmes.

The Foundation Programme for Nursing curriculum is programmatic, and a key feature of this approach is that all assessments are formative until the end of the programme. From our very first learning and teaching interactions, we try to instil reflective self-questioning into the classroom and into our personal tutorials, with the aim of beginning to undo some of the dominant dualist thinking that pervades education systems around the world: the idea that there is one right way to approach a task, and that the teacher or some ‘more knowledgeable other’ can and will provide that.

What we have been developing…

As a way to begin to teach the students how to self-evaluate i.e. generate their own internal feedback on their formative work, we have created a series of reflective activities on forms which students complete and submit along with each of their formative weekly submissions. We have used several variations of this activity for different purposes, examples of which include:

  • Self-assessment on meeting the task brief (applied to a variety of written genres)
  • Self-assessment of a re-draft of a task based upon group feedback (particularly used with formative open-book assessment answers)
  • Self and peer-assessment activity done concurrently

The primary aim of these reflective activities for students is to make habitual the processes of reviewing not just what they have produced (the product) but how they have gone about it (the process). Questioning centres around what they found reasonably straightforward and what they found more challenging about each task. We also want them to tell us what they have done themselves in an attempt to overcome any difficulties they may have had in producing the work. This is a critical stage in the assessment writing process which often gets overlooked in favour of more surface level ‘checking’ and proofreading. Importantly, the forms also encourage students to indicate where they would like us to focus our feedback, if they have a particular preference, which gives them some agency in the feedback process and promotes dialogue with their tutors.

What are the benefits to students’ learning development of engaging in this type of self-evaluation activity?

It encourages students to reflect on not only task performance (past focused) but also areas in which they need to develop (present and future focused). They do this by making comparisons with exemplars, previous work and the work of peers and by referring to assessment briefs, marking criteria, taught materials and previous feedback in a series of analogic and analytic comparison processes (Nicol, 2020) which are key to improving their feedback and assessment literacy.

This reflective process encourages dialogue. For feedback to be effective, yes, we want students to engage in some sort of dialogue with us, their tutors. But ultimately, becoming an independent learner means being able to have that internal reflective dialogue which enables students to self-generate feedback about their own work which is key to “becoming an accomplished and effective professional” (Boud and Falchikov, 2007).

But it is not without its challenges…

Afterall, most students don’t believe that they possess the required skills or expertise to be able to self-assess their own work. It requires time and investment on the part of the student and a great deal of scaffolding to persuade some students of its benefits. However, we remain encouraged by the completion rates and by some of the student’s perceptions of its usefulness.

If nothing else, the processes serve as a reminder to go back and check assessment briefs, to look again at examples and explanations given and to read carefully their previous feedback comments to begin to see where patterns are emerging and improvements are beginning to show in their work.

If you would like to know more about these activities or have similar experiences to share, or perhaps are interested in working with us to reflect on and further develop these ideas please contact me or Claire Tarrant 

Boud, D., & Falchikov, N. (2007). Developing assessment for informing judgement. In D. Boud & N. Falchikov (Eds.), Rethinking assessment in higher education: Learning for the longer term (pp. 181-197). London: Routledge.

Nicol, D. (2020) The power of internal feedback: exploiting natural comparison processes, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2020.1823314