Communication skills resource 3: Assessing student skills

Communication skills resource: Assessing student skills [PDF 1.8MB]

Assessing students' communication skills is important for several reasons. Firstly, it sends the message to students that the University takes their communication skills levels seriously and encourages students to develop those skills. Secondly, it can provide useful feedback to students on particular areas that need improvement and how to improve them. Thirdly, it allows you to determine whether or not students meet the expected communication skills standard for their year level as identified in the graduate capabilities descriptors in their discipline.

Finally, it can help you determine what support students need to continue developing their communication skills.

It's especially important to assess communication skills as part of an early assessment task in a subject so that you can give students formative feedback (feedback which tells them how to improve) and are able to improve their skills throughout the semester.

Resources

Marking rubrics

Marking rubrics provided and explained in advance of assessment tasks help your students understand what they are being marked on. Completed rubrics help them understand how they performed and how they can improve their work. For you as teaching staff, marking rubrics make the job of marking easier and more objective.

As communication skills are a key component of learning at university and are included in subject intended learning outcomes, they should be included on marking rubrics. This will alert students to the communication skills they need to demonstrate and will ensure they are being marked on those skills.

You can use the sample marking rubric template (written communication) provided below as it is and add your own content criteria. Alternatively, you can adapt it to reflect the assessment tasks and standards of written communication expected in your subject.

The marking rubric template (written communication) will be available on Turnitin soon.

Template (Written Communication)

Criterion

High standard (A)

Acceptable standard (C)

Below standard

Criteria relating to content, critical analysis, etc.

-

-

-

Text structure &  organisation

Text structure is appropriate for the task (e.g., introduction, body & conclusion).

Information & ideas are logically organised.

Paragraphs contain a single main idea & follow a clear logical structure.

Text structure is generally appropriate for the task.

Information is well organised overall.

Paragraphs are sometimes too short or contain too many ideas. Some elements may be redundant or irrelevant.

The text does not follow an appropriate structure for academic writing.

Information & ideas are poorly organised. Paragraphs, if used, contain too many ideas and the logical relationship between sentences is not always clear.

Language

Expression is clear & precise and uses an appropriate academic style.

Errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation or word choice are rare.

Occasional problems with style may be caused by informal, personal or emotional language &/ or unconventional word choices. Minor grammatical errors occur but do not interfere with understanding.

Expression is limited by the use of a restricted range of vocabulary.

The style is not appropriate for academic writing.

Errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and/or word choice are intrusive & frequently interfere with understanding.

Integrating & acknowledging sources

Source material is well integrated, mostly using paraphrase.

The writer's voice is clear.

Correct style is used for formatting quotes, in text citations & references.

Minor problems occur with paraphrasing &/or formatting of quotes, in text citations & references.

The writer's voice is generally clear.

Large sections of the text have been copied directly from source materials &/or paraphrasing is too similar to the original.

In text citations & references are often incorrectly formatted or missing.

Note: What is an acceptable level may vary according to the discipline or task. For example, a Journalism assessment task may need to meet the standards listed under 'high' on this rubric in order to be at an acceptable level. Adjustments will need to be made to the rubric in such cases.

Comments bank

A comments bank is a collection of comments which you can use to provide feedback to students on their assessment tasks. Using a comments bank can increase your students' opportunities for learning: feedback on early assignments can be a particularly useful tool, supporting students to objectify their writing and develop an editing eye. A comments bank can also reduce your workload, as you won't have to come up with individual comments for each task you mark.

Before using the comments bank, you should customise it by adding discipline or task specific items and deleting irrelevant items. This will maximise relevance and authenticity and increase ease of use.

You can:

  1. Use the comments bank as a Word document, from which you can cut and paste into your marking sheets;
  2. Use it to create your own comments bank in Turnitin, or
  3. Use it to create your own comments bank in the Assignment marking tool on the LMS.

A version of the comments bank will be available in Turnitin soon.

You can view how to create a comments bank in Turnitin in Chapter 4 of the Turnitin Instructor Handbook.

Macro level skills

Feature Positive feedback Constructive feedback
Overall structure & organisation
  • Information and ideas are well organised.
  • You have written a well-structured response.
  • This text is engaging, well organised and presents a convincing argument.
  • This writing communicates in a lively and engaging manner.
  • Your writing does not follow the correct organisational structure for this task.
  • The organisational structure of the text does not follow the guidelines provided.
  • Using dot points instead of full sentences is not acceptable in academic writing.
  • The message is reasonably clear but you need to divide your ideas into paragraphs.
  • You have presented a lot of ideas and information but it needs to be organised into sub-topics and put into paragraphs.
  • You need to organise your writing into a more logical structure.
  • It's not clear how the information in this paragraph relates to the main purpose of the text.
  • It is difficult to understand the logic of this text. Try to use signposting (e.g., first, second, finally) to make the relationships between different parts of the text clearer.

Middle level skills

Feature Positive feedback Constructive feedback
Paragraph-level structure & organisation
  • Your introduction tells me you have clearly addressed the question.
  • This text began well with an effective introduction.
  • Well-structured paragraphs make the ideas in this text easy to follow.
  • This is a good summary of the points made in the essay.

Introduction

  • You need to provide some context, e.g., why is this topic interesting or important?
  • You need to provide a statement about the purpose of your essay.
  • You need to provide a statement about how your essay is organised.

Body

  • Paragraphs should only contain one main idea.
  • Use a topic sentence at the start of each paragraph to tell the reader what the paragraph is about. This will make your writing easier to follow.
  • This information does not appear to be relevant to the main topic of the paragraph.
  • This seems to be saying the same thing as the previous sentence.
  • This paragraph is too short. You need to provide more support for the main idea.
  • The sentences in this paragraph do not seem to follow a logical order. Use link words (eg therefore) to make the relationship between sentences clearer.

Conclusion

  • The conclusion should summarise the main points & state the key message(s) of the text.

Micro level skills

Feature Positive feedback Constructive feedback
Academic style
  • You have demonstrated excellent mastery of the appropriate academic style.
  • Avoid using colloquial language (slang).
  • Avoid using emotional language.
  • You need to use more tentative language here (e.g., may, possibly).
  • For this subject it's best to avoid using "I". You can show a strong point of view by using a simple statement. e.g. 'Abortion is a controversial issue.' instead of writing "I think that…"
Vocabulary, grammar, spelling & punctuation
  • Well written and clearly expressed throughout.
  • Very well presented and free of errors.
  • You have an excellent vocabulary.
  • This is not a complete sentence.
  • This sentence is too long and should be split in two.
  • It's great that you've tried to use linking / signposting language but you have chosen the wrong one, which makes it confusing.
  • Problems with the grammar in this sentence make it quite difficult to understand.
  • I understand what you mean but this is not the expression we would usually use here.
  • Try to find some synonyms for this word so it's not so repetitive.
  • Some of the words you've used in this sentence make it difficult to understand.
  • You have used the right word but the wrong grammatical form of the word.

General

  • There are a lot of grammatical errors in your writing, which make it hard to understand.
  • You use a good variety of vocabulary but sometimes an unusual choice of words makes the writing difficult to understand.
  • You need to expand your vocabulary so you can say what you mean more clearly.
  • Try to avoid using the same words repeatedly.
  • You need to do more careful proof-reading of your writing to reduce the number of spelling & punctuation errors.
Integrating and acknowledging sources
  • You demonstrate a good understanding of how to integrate source material into your writing.
  • The language you have used is too similar to the original text. Remember to use quotation marks for language that is not your own.
  • Highlight the key aspects of the table rather than describing everything in it.
  • This does not follow the correct citation style.
  • The reference list is not complete.

General

  • You have presented a lot of ideas, but what is your view? Use information and ideas from your reading to support your ideas.
  • You need to improve your paraphrasing skills.
  • Key information from tables and figures needs to be integrated more into the discussion.
  • You need to do more work on using the correct citation style.

Tips on giving feedback

  1. Give some quality feedback early. Good feedback can really motivate students and encourage them to improve. The more they engage and improve, the easier your job becomes. If you give good feedback early then students have more time to develop their skills.
  2. If you are giving criticism, don't talk about the student; talk about the text. Rather than writing 'You don't use enough technical terminology', you can write 'This text should include more technical terminology'. This helps avoid making students feel inadequate and instead focuses them on how to improve their writing.
  3. Don't assume that students already know the good points of their work. Be sure to give positive comments. This can help keep students motivated. If you can't find any positive qualities in the work, you can acknowledge students' efforts or thank them for sharing their views.
  4. Think about feedback as working down from the big picture to the small detail. This is a good way to talk to students about their writing too. Although it can seem like writing issues are mainly about "grammar" or "English", they are often more about thinking and organisation.

For more information on good feedback practices, see Naylor, R. Baik, C. Asmar, C and Watty, K. 2014 Good Feedback Practices: Prompts and Guidelines for reviewing and enhancing feedback for students from the University of Melbourne.