This paper outlines two cycles of pedagogic action research exploring the pre-emptive formative use of exemplars which were embedded into teaching sessions mid-way through a module entitled ‘Perspectives on Childhood.’ Students were asked to bring their own formative work to a workshop in which exemplars-based activities were provided. The activities were intended to enable first-year students to perceive the quality of their conceptual grasp of important subject-matter, giving them a timely opportunity to change and improve their approaches to study if necessary. The research question was: how could the teaching team improve their pedagogic practices surrounding exemplar-use to develop their students’ capacity to identify the quality of their own formative work and hone their self-regulatory learning skills? The first cycle of action research revealed that a surprisingly high proportion of participating students experienced considerable difficulty in drawing valuable inferences and, hence, in using the exemplars-based activities effectively to review and adjust their own current task-related performance. These findings productively disturbed the teaching team’s assumptions and practices about managing the exemplars-based activities, leading to important transformations in their thinking and the subsequent management of the exemplars in the second cycle and beyond.
The paper reports the fresh insights, conceptual changes and practice-developments this process of collaborative enquiry promoted. These include the pedagogic transformations that were collaboratively developed amongst the team in the highly situated local context, but also the theoretical inferences that may be drawn for the sector more widely. The implications for teacher management of exemplars, and, especially, the value of adopting an ‘inner feedback’ (Nicol, 2018) perspective - focusing on students using exemplars explicitly to make comparisons to simulate the pedagogically-valuable elements of the processes of peer review (Nicol, 2019) -are particularly highlighted.
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