Assessment for Learning in History: Maximizing Error Analysis to bridge students’ learning gaps in answering Source-Based Case Study Questions


Source-Based Case Study (SBCS) is a compulsory part of the formal history assessment in Singapore. It falls under Assessment Objective 3 which requires students to “interpret and evaluate source material” (MOE, 2013). Since this is an important component in the current assessment framework, history teachers spend a significant amount of time helping students to master the requisite source-work skills. In addition, they would frequently be engaged in the task of setting and marking SBCS assignments. Some of these teachers would strive to give feedback to help students know where they stand and how they can improve. They would normally include comments and some may write copious amount of feedback. While these teachers held good intentions when writing feedback, for example, to help students improve their performance, anecdotal evidence suggests that students were likely to skim over written feedback and instead concentrate mainly on the marks and grades awarded. This action on the part of the students, however, negates the purpose of Formative Assessment (FA) “as one that is specifically meant to provide feedback on performance to improve and accelerate learning” (Sadler, 1998, p. 77).

Another issue hindering student improvement in answering SBCS questions is their over-reliance on the teacher, especially in going through detailed explanations for each question after the marking process, and then for students to merely address the corrections by copying given answers. This situation can be described as “learning is being taught” (Watkins, 2003) where the traditional roles of the teacher as the provider of all knowledge and that of the student as the absorber of passed down knowledge play out in the context mentioned above. While doing corrections may suggest that students have comprehended their mistakes, anecdotal evidence again suggests the ineffectiveness of this approach as the recurrence of the same mistake being made by students appears very high. One reason is because most students – without being consciously aware – are just copying the model answers without ever thinking about the question again. While some students may independently re-look and try to make sense of these answers before tests and examinations, a large number of them can experience “rumination”, a state in which students get stuck on their mistakes and wander around them without learning how to find a solution (Panadero & Alonso-Tapia, 2014). Moreover, the copying of model answers erroneously reinforce the idea that the teacher’s answer is the only logical or correct one while discarding the possibility of other acceptable answers (which the students are not exposed to).

This article aims to share how designing a comprehensive error analysis lesson package, which was implemented at Broadrick Secondary School (BSS), can serve as a means for thinking about a student-centered approach to bridge their learning gaps in answering SBCS questions. Teachers can leverage the opportunity of maximizing error analysis methods into an Assessment for Learning (AfL) design by using marking codes, feedback, questioning, gradual release of responsibility, differentiated instruction and self-reflection to engage students in their learning.

AfL as A Way to Learn

AfL or FA “is an active and intentional learning process that partners the teacher and students to continuously and systematically gather evidence of learning with the express goal of improving student achievement” (Moss  &  Brookhart,  2009, p. 6).

Error analysis becomes a form of AfL when feedback, questioning, collaboration and differentiated sense-making are established into a model of learning. This type of learning follows a socio-cultural model of learning and can be considered as co-constructivist as learning takes place through interacting with others in meaningful contexts and through problem-solving activities (Watkins, 2003). 

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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