This post is a highly edited version of a submitted article that I wrote for my Postgraduate Certificate in Education course at Keele University. In the essay, I reflected on the impact of assessment on one’s own learning and how it has altered the academic path that I have chosen to follow in order to avoid extended written tasks.
Writing essays to articulate particular message, idea or hypothesis to a third party can be a daunting and terrifying experience for some learners. Not knowing how or where to start can all be compounded into personal anxieties which can prevent an individual from writing (Osborne 1999; Marshall 2001; May 2001). As many forms of assessments have some element of extended written task, the ability to understand the written English language and the myriad of rules and the complexities in formulating a clear, understandable and logical idea, individuals that struggle with writing may not be able to achieve sufficient number of marks necessary in order to pass a particular requirement of a course/module.
One of the aims of extended writing (essays) as a form of assessment is to allow the opportunity for an individual to express their depth and breadth of knowledge and understanding of a particular topic or subject in writing. However, there are many disadvantages to utilising essays as a form of written assessment, e.g., individuals who find it difficult to read and write can be at a significant disadvantage as it may take longer for them to understand what the question(s) is about, process their thoughts and then convey them in the written form (Brown, Race & Smith 1996). It has been shown that given enough time (or if no time limited is imposed), individuals who find it difficult to write extended essays can often achieve similar marks to those who find it not as challenging (Runyan 1991).
From an early age, I have actively avoided writing, probably as a result of struggling with reading, writing and spelling in primary school. Focus and attention by the teachers was given to students whose behaviour was less than desirable, or students who were identified as high achievers and can move on with a topic much more quickly. Consequently, students, like myself, who were quiet were not given as much attention and their learning was allowed to passively proceed.
Upon entering secondary education, help and support from the teaching staff was not really offered as I had developed strategies to avoid reading (both out loud and in silent) and writing, particularly in the more English-orientated subjects, e.g., English, history, religious education and others. It was during my time in secondary school that I started to excel in more scientific subjects, such as chemistry, owing to the lack of extended writing tasks and being able to answer exam questions with direct, and often one word answers. At further education, I chose to continue my interest in the scientific subjects. Spelling scientific/chemical words appears to have come much more naturally to me, perhaps as a result of the logical way of how the chemical names are spelt.
At university, I chose to study two scientific subjects, chemistry and biochemistry, that I had a keen interest in understanding more of. However, it quickly became apparent that in one of the subjects, the end of module exams contained an element of short answer questions and the dreaded extended writing task. The latter contained significant proportion of the total marks for the examination paper, and avoiding answering the question(s) would result in failure of the module and course, as the former question style did not contain enough potential marks to be awarded with a pass. As a result, upon entering my final year, I dropped the subject, continued with my degree, but majoring in chemistry.
Actively avoiding written tasks has had a direct impact on one’s own learning, as it would mean that any course(s) that involved writing would either not be chosen or begrudgingly signed up to, owing to a requirement of the overall scheme of work. The notion of “…sucking it up…”, “…getting it out of the way…” and, “…moving on…”, quickly became a coping mechanism, one in which is shared by many learners (Cameron & Billington 2017), and an act of self defence that, even to this day, is difficult to shake off. Often personal anxieties and stress can inhibit me writing and conveying my thoughts on a blank page. Carroll and Iles (2006) noted that, contrary to the work of Riddick et al. (1999), “…years of repeated struggles with reading will have disposed dyslexics to feel signs of stress, worry and anxiety when placed in a situation demanding literacy accuracy”.
Over the last five years, a strong preference towards typing rather than handwriting essays has been established, perhaps due to the trend of online social media activities, e.g., Facebook, Twitter etc., and the rapid increase in my ability to use word processing software packages more effectively and efficiently. This has resulted in my reliance upon technology to check the spelling (of any words typed) and grammar (of the sentences typed) of my written work. However, the rudimentary spelling and grammar rules present in word processing software often meant spending more time reviewing the sentences just written to ensure the readability of the text. This meant that the writing was a very slow and often cumbersome process, which lead to more negative feelings towards the text.
The idea of providing someone who finds it challenging to write essays with well-defined writing strategies, grammatical rules, commonly misspelt words, and the use of technology is all very productive, and should be given to anyone who wishes that level of assistance. However, it is only with practice and obtaining good constructive feedback in a safe, supportive and encouraging environment can individuals who struggle with writing begin to write in confidence.
Brown, S., Race, P., and Smith, B. (1996). “500 Tips on Assessment.” Routledge. Taylor and Francis.
Cameron, H., and Billington, T. (2017). ‘Just deal with it’: neoliberalism in dyslexic students’ talk about dyslexia and learning at university. Studies in Higher Education 42, 8, 1358-1372.
Carroll, J. M., and Iles, J. E. (2006). An assessment of anxiety levels in dyslexic students in higher education. British Journal of Educational Psychology 76, 651-662
Kirby, J. R., Silvestri, R., Allingham, B. H., Parrila, R., and La Fave, C. B. (2008). Learning Strategies and Study Approaches of Postsecondary Students With Dyslexia. Journal of Learning Disabilities 41, 1, 85-96.
Marshall, K., Jr. (2001). “I Will Not Succumb to Obstacles.” In Learning Disabilities and Life Stories, edited by P. Rodis, A. Garrod, and M. L. Boscardin. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
May, A. (2001). “Figuring Out My World.” In Learning Disabilities and Life Stories, edited by P. Rodis, A. Garrod, and M. L. Boscardin. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
National curriculum in England (2013). Department for Education, United Kingdom.
Osborne, P. (1999). Pilot Study to Investigate the Performance of Dyslexic Students in Written Assessments, Innovations in Education & Training International 36, 2, 155-160.
Riddick, B., Sterling, C., Farmer, M., and Morgan, S. (1999). Self-esteem and anxiety in the educational histories of adult dyslexic students. Dyslexia, 5, 227-248.
Runyan, M. K. (1991). The effect of extra reading time on comprehension scores for university students with and without reading disabilities, Journal of Learning Disabilites 24, 2, 104-107.