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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The relative effectiveness of four procedures for evaluating student's written themes McMechan, Melville Young


The ability to communicate effectively in writing is important not only within the educational system but also in business, professional, and domestic life. Most educators agree that this ability can best be developed through regular practice and they agree, further, that this practice can be given direction and purpose through the use of carefully selected and properly employed marking techniques. Over the years various techniques were developed with a view to increasing the reliability of theme grading; others were designed to reduce the marking load; still others were chiefly concerned with the psychological effect upon the students. But there was no conclusive evidence favouring a specific method which would promote composition improvement. In response to the need for such a method the writer proposed the use of "salient feature" comments. An instructional and marking programme involving four equated groups of Grade Eight students was devised. The two experimental groups had all their practice themes marked with letter grades and brief comments respectively. The corresponding control groups had only one-quarter of their practice themes marked. Initial and final test paragraphs provided the numerical bases for making inter-group comparisons. It was hypothesized that, between the pairs of groups to be compared, if there were no significant mean score differences prior to the practice period there would be no significant mean score differences following it. Analysis of the main body of evidence showed that the null hypothesis was sustained throughout. No advantage for any particular marking method could be clained. In fact, the control groups evidently made as much progress as the others. Supplementary calculations focussed attention on smaller subgroups in restricted ability ranges. Here, apparently, the "salient feature" sub-groups made the most consistent gains. Subjective opinion as well as objective evidence was sought. A majority of teachers and students thought that the composition had improved and, given a choice of several marking plans, expressed a preference for written comments. It seemed reasonable to conclude that, while the "salient feature" comments method did not prove significantly advantageous, it might, nevertheless, merit further study. It was suggested further that the kind of marking may be less important than regular, purposeful practice. Perhaps limited marking techniques could be developed which would not only improve composition but also free teachers for the individualized instruction which may, after all, provide the best answer to the question, "How can we help students reach a standard of achievement in composition which is consistent with the demands of an increasingly complex society?"

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