‘When you just get a mark and a nasty comment, what’s that called?’ ‘Summative assessment’ Creating an enabling environment for formative assessment

  • Wilhelm H Meyer


The quotation in the title highlights the experience of many students of summative assessment as the dominant mode of assessment in most South African schools. As a result, students enter university ignorant of good formative feedback and they are therefore often unable to recognise its value and may even be traumatised by the presence of so much ink on the page. This situation indicates a need for explicit focus on formative assessment and its usefulness for EAL university students in South Africa. This article is based on focus group interviews, which formed part of an ongoing critical action research project exploring formative assessment in an academic writing course for disadvantaged access students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In previous stages of this research, Wilhelm Meyer and Penny Niven have explored their identity as writing teachers giving feedback on student essays and attempted to implement the principles of good formative assessment developed as a result. In this phase of the research project, the students were given explicit instruction on summative, formative and criterion-based assessment, in a series of classes developed by Penny Niven. At the end of this series, Wilhelm Meyer conducted focus group interviews with twelve students in an attempt to assess the success of the experiment in creating a heightened awareness of formative criterion-based assessment practices in order that they would understand and therefore utilise formative feedback on their writing.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2009, 27(2): 215–228

Author Biography

Wilhelm H Meyer
School of Language, Literature and Linguistics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Pietermaritzburg 3209, South Africa

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614