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Co-designing marking criteria with students for non-standard assessments

6 March 2024

4 minutes to read

Co-designing marking criteria with students for non-standard assessments

If we want students to know what is expected of them in an assessment it is critical to have a set of marking criteria that make transparent how they will be assessed. This is even more important in the case of non-standard assessments. This post describes how I get students to co-design marking criteria for such a non-standard assessment in an optional, final year, Human Geography module, Geographies of the Body

One of the intended learning outcomes is to get students to take embodied and bodily knowledges seriously. 50% of the module mark comes from an assessment that asks the students to write about their own embodied experiences – these can range from a walk in a storm, to falling asleep, to writing an assessment, to working behind a bar (and beyond). Their writing must also explore somatic vocabularies (e.g. sensory, movement, feelings), and draw on a set of emerging geographical literatures that develop understandings of such embodied and bodily knowledges and practices. In the most successful cases, the writing is able to communicate the feel of the chosen practice to the reader, and to draw out the geographies present.

Co-designing the marking criteria for this assessment is a key way in which I offer assessment support to the students, and shapes the design of the course in a number of ways:

  1. Practical sessions:

Alongside lectures and seminars, practicals are a key part of the timetable. They are designed to allow the students to pay attention to some aspects of embodied experience that might be new to them (or that they might begin to understand in a different way). Key to this is extending their understandings of what might count as geographical knowledge to include e.g. sensations, emotions, movements, and relationships with objects. As these images show, we do a variety of activities, including a skill share, sensory workshops, playing with props like parachutes and space blankets, and building environments with cardboard tubes and sticky tape. I invite the students to write something short after each of these practicals and offer some formative feedback to them.

  1. Marking criteria workshops:

A set of workshops, where students work in small groups with PTA support, form the basis of the co-creation of the marking criteria. In sessions 1 and 2, I bring a series of short, contrasting, extracts from research articles which modelled something related to the assessment to the first two sessions. I ask them to pick out what they notice and enjoy in these extracts (e.g. first person writing, performative writing, using words to shape pace, different forms of description etc.). Each group hands in their reflections at the end of each session for me to collate and circulate. 

In session 3, we use the standard set of departmental marking criteria as a reference point. I ask the students to begin to translate some of their reflections from the first 2 sessions into something that looks more like a set of ‘marking criteria’ statements. I always start them off with a statement along the lines of ‘valuing risk-taking without it needing to be successful’ as this is an important element to me. 

The outcome of this session is a set of statements written by the students which I summarise and rationalise – to remove duplication, to tidy expression (done as a set of comments on a shared document they are invited to edit), and group the statements into categories (e.g. writing style, use of literature, the topic chosen to write about). A set of drafts emerge:

  • A scrappy draft with headings and invites to comment.
  • A more coherent draft with a paragraph or two covering each of the categories.
  • A draft with added grade boundaries and key words taken from the geography marking criteria (e.g. exceptional/outstanding, excellent, good/very good and so on).
  • A final version – sent to the module moderator and saved as part of a mark sheet which I fill in and upload.

Example grade descriptor (62-28), 2019

Example grade descriptor (62-28), 2021

 My aim here is to develop an environment where students are able to excel in the assessment. The marking criteria co-design process opens up a set of opportunities for them to gain insight into, and exercise agency over, the marking criteria used to assess their work thus developing their assessment literacy. Those who engage with the process enjoy it – student feedback shows that they feel listened to and have a greater understanding about the assessment requirements. A significant number of students get marks in the 70’s and 80’s (and sometimes even higher). The exercise does seem to split the cohort; not all students fully engage and give feedback that we spend too much time talking about assessment criteria and they don’t understand why. 

The module is complex, and the co-design process is part of this complexity. Over time it has become increasingly out of line with department norms around contact time and staffing. A process such as this that needs to be done live within term time is vulnerable to interruptions (such as strike days, illness, other deadlines. While there is a significant feeling of achievement when we get to the final set of marking criteria, the process requires energy, commitment and a certain degree of nerve. While co-designing marking criteria is undeniably a lot of work, it is also a rewarding and interesting way to create appropriate marking criteria for an assessment that doesn’t fit the standard set. Designing the module around this assessment creates opportunities for transformative learning, and feelings of joy, connection and belonging for me and many of the students. 


For more information please contact:


Dr. Jennifer Lea
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