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Student Self-Assessment: A New Year's Classroom Resolution


It's one of those important but dirty words in education today. K-12 teachers struggle with accountability in regard to students' test scores, portfolios, and attendance. Adult educators' battles lie with TABE level gains, GED attainment, and yes, attendance. But what does it mean for students to be accountable, and how can we reinforce student accountability in our classrooms?

Think about it.

Individuals with a growth-mindset are accountable people. They give themselves credit where it is due and blame where improvement can be made. They constantly assess and reassess their abilities and goals, asking, "What are my strengths? How can I improve?" But a struggle for most of our students is one of not knowing how to capitalize on their skills and how to improve their weaknesses. Adult students differ from most K-12 students in the area of life experience. Many adult students have struggled to maintain employment and relationships, but they don’t often see any connection between themselves and their struggles.

Enter the Self-Assessment.

In the past, assessment has been primarily teacher-led: tests, quizzes, worksheets, and essays helped teachers to gauge their students' level of understanding. While these (among a myriad of others) are still important tools, the somewhat-recent idea of student self-assessment is perhaps just as important.

In their essay “Student Self-Assessment: The Key to Stronger Student Motivation and Higher Achievement,” McMillan and Hearn (2008) say that student self-assessment is best utilized when students “1) monitor and evaluate the quality of their thinking and behavior when learning and 2) identify strategies to improve their understanding and skills.” The pair goes on to mention that self-assessment is particularly important in standards-based instruction since benchmarks for learning are so clearly written.

The key to self-assessment is questions, questions, questions.

McMillan and Hearn use a cyclical process to describe self-assessment. Self-judgment allows students to understand where their knowledge lies in relation to the learning target at hand. Learning targets and instructional correctives allow students to then identify and implement strategies to improve their learning and performance. Self-monitoring makes students aware of their thinking and actions in relation to the material presented. They then arrive back at self-judgment: is what I have done correct? Do any adjustments need to be made to reach the goal? Do I need to adjust my strategies to be successful? How can I correct my incorrect answers? What further learning needs to take place?

But why should students self-assess?

Adult students in particular are in a constant state of connecting their classroom learning to real-life. They want to know why they should learn about sentence structure and percentages. When students assess their own learning and abilities, they “connect new knowledge, understandings, and skills with what they have already stored and use […and…] self-assessment fosters students’ ability to make these connections themselves,” which results in better self-confidence and motivation for the students. Self-assessment also builds self-efficacy, or a student’s perception of his/her ability to be successful. Additionally, increased self-awareness then leads to seeing the need for increased accountability.

The easiest and most effective way for our students to self-assess is formatively through use of a rubric. Get in the habit of training your students to use rubrics for everything, including group work, writing, life skills, communication skills, and so forth. North Carolina has created a fantastic Employability Skills Toolkit that is full of simple yet effective rubrics to assess students’ soft skills. I have adapted many of these rubrics for our Kentucky Employability Skills Pilot statewide workshops for personnel to use in their learning centers. Rubrics are fantastically simple for students to understand and use.

The next simple yet effective form of self-assessment is a reflection tool. Consider adding a 5-minute journaling session as an exit-slip at the end of each session. Have students simply reflect on what they learned. Some leading questions might be: How well did I understand the material today when we began class? In the middle? At the end? Is there anything I need extra help with? How can I get that help? How can I practice this skill this week outside of the classroom? How can this skill help me get a job?

It’s important to note that students aren’t the only benefactors of self-assessment. Instructors can also use the students’ self-assessments to measure student understanding and use the information to adjust instructional strategies and learning targets. Win, win!

Make it your New Year’s classroom resolution to try at least one of these rubrics each week in your class. Let me know how it works out!

For additional information, please visit:

"Student Self-Assessment: The Key to Stronger Student Motivation and Higher Achievement"

North Carolina Network for Excellence in Teaching Employability Skills Resource Toolkit

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