Writing for an external audience in Comparative Literature

Instructor: Dr Anna Bernard
Palestinian and Israeli Literature, Comparative Literature Level 5
Assessment activity:
Writing a review for an external audience

A summative mid-semester 1000 word review of an exhibition, talk, or performance in London, written for a magazine audience. Worth 15% of the module grade.


Why did you introduce the assessment?

It was introduced at the module level. A version of this assignment is also used in the compulsory Comparative Literature Level 4 module Genres of World Literature, which I used to co-convene. It contributes to two of the main learning outcomes on Palestinian and Israeli Literature, which requires that students are able to demonstrate an ability to identify, analyse, and communicate key concepts and theories that underpin Palestinian and Israeli writing; and to produce independent reflections on Palestinian and Israeli works that are informed by the analysis of concepts at an abstract level.

I wanted to include an additional method of assessment alongside academic essay writing, one that would allow students to try out different kinds of voice and address, and would diversify their modes of engagement with the course material. By asking them to attend events related to this conflict that are taking place in London, I also wanted to foreground the module’s invitation to think about the political and cultural impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the UK, and in their own lives.


 How did you design the assessment criteria and weighting? 

15% of the final summative grade for the module (the other 85% is a more traditional essay). This is an individual assignment. The marking criteria is based on the generic college criteria, but the usual requirement to cite an adequate range of secondary literature is waived for this assignment. Students submit through Turnitin.

At the start of term, I put a list of events taking place before the review deadline on KEATS. Some years there are more events happening than others; this year, I have supplemented with online exhibitions and podcasts aimed at English-language audiences. Students usually choose something from the list, although they are free to choose their own subject. I don’t require that they clear it with me first, unless they are not sure if it meets the criteria laid out on the KEATS page.


How did you give feedback and provide formative practice? 

Feedback is provided through annotation and written feedback on Turnitin submissions (using Feedback Studio), along with a numerical mark.

Student can feel quite anxious about new forms of assessment; hence, in the weeks building up to the submission, time is given in class to discuss the resources and ask questions so students feel supported.

How did you explain this to students? 

I provide written guidance explaining how a review differs from an academic essay on KEATS, along with links to guidance for writing article, exhibition, and theatre reviews, and a sample book review of my own.

Students are also given a choice to review a piece of secondary literature from the module bibliography or an example of media reporting or advocacy about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This option is there partly to provide another option for students who might find it difficult to attend an event, and partly to give them the opportunity to write a different kind of review if they so choose, although the general review guidance is the same (what does the text try to achieve, how does it try to achieve this, what are its strengths and weaknesses).


What benefits did you see? 

Authentic engagement: Students seem to like the challenge and being able to come up with their own choice of text and review type. My sense of students’ response to this assignment comes from the number of students who come to discuss their ideas in office hours and the enthusiasm (or, if they didn’t like it, vitriol) that they express about their chosen subject in person and in the reviews themselves.

Marking: It’s fairly quick to mark, and it’s also interesting to see the range of review subjects they choose, and the different persona they take on when directed to assess a work’s strengths and weaknesses. Several times I’ve gone to an exhibition or play after reading my students’ accounts of it first, and I’ve been delighted to confirm how insightful their responses were.

Opportunity for feedback: The mid-term assessment gives students something to work towards in the first half of the semester, and a benchmark to see how they’re doing before they begin writing their final essay. It also means that the final essay is 3000 rather than 4000 words long. Students’ performances on this assignment are generally comparable to or better than their final essay results.

Aligning with King’s Education Strategy: More broadly, the assignment highlights the opportunities for intercultural exchange and expanding one’s global outlook that are available in London, and that we emphasize as a key component of the Comparative Literature degree at King’s. The assignment also provides an opportunity for students who may feel socially isolated (international or study abroad students or those living at home) to engage with their peers (for instance, by attending an event together, which students sometimes do) and the community.


What challenges did you encounter and how did you address them?

  • The biggest challenge I face with this assignment is student anxiety about encountering a new format of assessment. I have revised the guidance over the years to make it as specific as possible, with examples, and as noted I give students ample time to ask questions about the assignment in class.
  • The events list includes free as well as paid events, as well as the online exhibitions and talks, so students have a range of topics to choose from regardless of their financial circumstances. The events rarely cost more than a set text would, but in this instance students don’t have the option to borrow from the library. It might be worth introducing a fund (at Faculty level?) that students could apply to for expenses associated with this kind of assignment, based on need. Alternatively, if students cannot or do not wish to attend an event, they can choose to review a secondary piece of literature from the module bibliography or an example of media reporting or advocacy about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Students can choose the same event to attend, which raises the possibility of collusion, but I haven’t encountered any evidence of repetition or plagiarism in this assessment. The authentic nature of the assessment means that students can have very different reactions to the same event and so produce different reviews.


What advice would you give to colleagues who are thinking of trying a different type of writing assignment?

It’s important to be clear about instructions and expectations with an unfamiliar mode of assessment, and to have back-up options in case there are few relevant events taking place in the period before the deadline.

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