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Getting involved in formal assessment



In this module we will be looking at two subjects: how you document your supervision sessions and getting involved in assessment.

Not all supervisors will undertake formal assessment of their student/trainee, though at some point many will informally assess the work of a colleague.

We explore how you can organise the data you and your student/trainee collect in your supervision sessions. We focus on one approach to assessment: constructing a portfolio. There are however other methods of assessment to be used, including observation of practice and assessing specific competences in practice.

If your role includes assessment, then sooner or later you may encounter tensions arising between being a supervisor and being an assessor. We look at this topic at the end of this module.


Module outcomes

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By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • Understand the importance of recording in assessment.
  • Use a portfolio for recording supervision, for assessment and for your personal development.
  • Apply assessment techniques to a portfolio.
  • Appreciate what tensions may arise in supervising and assessing.

Recording information

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During supervision of your student/trainee you will collect a considerable volume of data about their work. This can be an important resource to both of you.

One way of storing and organising this material is as a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of experiences and reflections on working practices.

There are other ways if recording for assessment purposes, including writing a formal assessment report. If you are involved in this type of recording the institution offering the course may provide a template for you to use.


Collecting material for a portfolio

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Collecting material for a portfolio (cont'd)


Think about the materials that you could collect for a portfolio. Can you add any ideas in addition to the ones you have already seen? Make a note of them in My Learning Journal, in the 'Collecting material for portfolios' section. You will find it helpful to structure your data collection, and a sample form has been included in the Journal for you to use.

If you have already saved My Learning Journal, as described in module 1, please open it now. If you have not yet set up your own journal, click on the link below and save the document to your computer.


Using Portfolios to support assessment

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When portfolios are part of the assessment process they may be used in three ways. Click on each of the ways to find out how.

To demonstrate achievement

Portfolios are complex documents, often used in official circumstances. They are frequently used as a place for students/trainees to show they are 'doing it right'. The assessment of a portfolio can represent a large part of the final mark, so people use it to demonstrate a record of accomplishment.

To demonstrate knowledge

Where a portfolio is used in an assessment process, it can hold evidence that the student/trainee:

  • Is aware of relevant knowledge and how it can be applied
  • Can give a sound theoretical rationale for their practice
  • Can demonstrate understanding.

(Ability to do all of these is evidence of high-level competence, while doing only some of them is lower-level competence.)

As a place to write about good practice

When portfolios are assessed, this is often done as if they are transparent windows through which the supervisor can look to find good practice. Be careful that a focus on academic writing qualities does not disadvantage people who do not feel confident as writers for academic purposes.


Think about what the weaknesses might be of using a portfolio in these three ways. Record your thoughts in My Learning Journal, then click on View our thoughts.

View our thoughts

A weakness in demonstrating achievement:

This record presents a completed activity, expressed in terms of outcomes and resolutions. Portfolios used in this way do not expose the processes students/trainees use to address the problems and dilemmas of practice.

A weakness in demonstrating knowledge:

Many students/trainees will be tempted to present a highly selective, organised, tidied up version of the practice environment. Portfolios like this become 'after-the-event' accounts, written to impress the supervisor: the uncertainty, diversity, ambiguity and complexity that make up real work gets lost!

A weakness in writing about good practice:

A portfolio is not 'out in the field' work practice and it is not a transparent text through which you can see real work. The best place to see that is at work, on the spot. It is a different type of recording a view of work practice, where the writers can describe their world and their place in it. It can also be a continuing account of practice - not a once-and-for-all account.


Portfolios and formal assessment

When portfolios are associated with formal assessment, they often come to be seen as 'merely a product'. Viewing them like this undervalues the learning that can be gained by you and your student/trainee from the supervision process.


You may be required to complete an assessment of a trainee's/student's competences. You will usually be given specific guidance on this by the professional body or course team you are working for.


If you or your student/trainee use portfolios now to what extent do they fulfil the functions we have discussed in this section? Record your ideas in My Learning Journal in the section 'Portfolios and formal assessment'.

View our thoughts

If your reflection identifies gaps, you may want to make a note of how you might make better use of portfolio evidence. The activities later in this module will help you to do this.


Our advice in this section can only be a supplement to any specific guidance given by a professional body or university.


Using portfolios as process

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Viewing portfolios as a product assumes that they are or can be completed pieces of work. This need not be the case. If you view personal development as a continuous process your and your student/trainee's portfolio can be an open ended process document.

Portfolios can be a place to:

  • Analyse the way in which things are done now
  • Identify the underlying values in current practice
  • Critically appraise the context(s) of current practice
  • Imagine alternative contexts
  • Imagine alternative ways of promoting core values
  • Envisage strategies for change.

A portfolio has the potential to demonstrate the development of learning and the integration of theory and practice.


How comfortable are you with the messiness that reflects a 'work in progress'? Do you put preliminary notes and feedback into your portfolio? Record your ideas in My Learning Journal in the section 'Work in progress'.

View our thoughts

A portfolio can be a place to develop practice through reflection. However, reflection in the portfolio after the event is often an add-on activity that does not necessarily transfer to the practice environment in the short term.

Portfolios, as currently used, often have gate-keeping functions to regulate access and progression within a profession. The emphasis is on results and accomplishments.

However, portfolios potentially also have functions involving analysis, critique and possible change in practice and context. If you are working as a supervisor in non-assessed circumstances, you may find that encouraging your student/trainee to develop a more dynamic portfolio is a really useful action.


Different ways of assessing

Assessment means different things to different people and in different contexts. In this part of the module, we explore some of the principal ways in which people can assess their own and others' work, using portfolios and other methods by:

  • Assessing by observing and describing what is going on
  • Assessing by analysing and evaluating current practice
  • Assessing by synthesising and speculating about practice.

You might call these ways of thinking three different 'lenses' through which you can look at the work your student/trainee is doing.


Different ways of assessing (cont'd)

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Using a lens of observation and description


Make some notes about a recent episode where you were actually making an assessment of what a student/ trainee was doing. (If you are new to the role of supervisor/mentor, think instead about an occasion when you made an assessment informally of a colleague or someone you manage at work.) What happened? Who was there? What was the outcome?

Record your notes in My Learning Journal. The Journal includes some additional question prompts to help you with this exercise.


Different ways of assessing (cont'd)

Related modules

Progressive focusing is explained in the module 'Skills for professional supervision'.

Using a lens of synthesis and speculation

Through an analytic lens, your account involves comparison and contrast: looking not just for what is there and what is missing, but for what could or should have been done differently.


Consider the same episode again and look at your own performance in assessing the student/trainee's piece of work. Ask yourself what you were looking for, how you did the assessment and how well it went.

Record your answers to the questions in My Learning Journal. If you would like help with this activity you might like to read about progressive focusing.


Different ways of assessing (cont'd)

Using a lens of synthesis and speculation

A lens of synthesis and speculation encourages you to develop your capacity to imagine alternatives, to be proactive rather than reactive, to engage in prospective rather than reflective practice.


Return to your incident yet again. What would have helped you to do it differently? What change(s) can you make for the future? Record your ideas in My Learning Journal.

Using these three activities will help you to build scenarios that you can discuss with your student/trainee. By using the three lenses you can build on work practice as it is, in order to change it.

As you interact with your student/trainee, think about how many of the lenses you use for any interaction. If you tend to focus on the first lens, try extending your use of the model to the second and third lenses.

Using a portfolio as a record through time will enable you recognise the underlying pattern of how you interact with your student/trainee.


Understanding tensions between supervision and assessment

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It is important that you are clear about the purpose of professional supervision and how it may differ from other interactions you may be having with the student/trainee. Listen to the audio to hear how one supervisor tackled this.

The main focus of professional supervision sessions is on a student's learning and professional development: this means that it has an educational and formative function.

However, supervision sessions may sometimes take on other functions: for example, if a student arrives at a session distressed after dealing with a difficult incident at work, your role may well include exploring their feelings about their work. And of course if you also have the role of assessor, it can get very complicated!


What might be some of the differences between professional and line management supervision? How could you explore these differences with the student as you begin professional supervision, particularly if you are also their line manager?

What do you think is and isn't the business of professional supervision? Record your ideas in My Learning Journal, in the section 'Supervision tensions'.

Reference material

You can read more about the function of supervision in the Encyclopaedia of informal education

View our thoughts

It is important to be clear about the boundaries of professional supervision, especially if you already have another role with the student - for example, as their line manager or as a colleague working in the same organisation. Exploring the purpose of professional supervision may be particularly important for a student who is new to supervision.



Photograph of a list of black checkboxes, the 1st has a red tick in it. A red pencil with a sharp point rests on the paper.
  1. In this module you have learned what a portfolio is.
  2. You have discovered how to use a portfolio for recording supervision, in assessment and your personal development.
  3. You have found out to apply assessment techniques to a portfolio.
  4. You have learned how to appreciate what tensions may arise in supervising and assessing.

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