“Getting children to reflect on progress themselves, to climb to the ‘high ground’ from which they can survey their own knowledge and process of learning (Bruner 1986), might be said to be one of the most ambitious purposes of teacher assessment…”
Torrance and Pryor, 1998
Self-assessment is the act of assessing one’s own learning progress. It’s as simple as that.
Research confirms the importance of learning this skill. In Ontario, teaching students to self-assess has been emphasized in policy and resources for at least the last 20 years.
In the most recent assessment and evaluation policy documents, Growing Success (2010) and Growing Success, Kindergarten Addendum (2016), teaching students the skills of self-assessment is embedded in the fundamental principles:
“To ensure that assessment, evaluation, and reporting are valid and reliable, and that they lead to the improvement of learning for all students, teachers use practices and procedures that:
… develop students’ self-assessment skills to enable them to assess their own learning, set specific goals, and plan next steps for their learning.” Gr. 1 – 12 p. 6/ Kindergarten Addendum p. 4
And yet, if you have asked students to self-assess their learning, it quickly becomes evident that it’s NOT as “simple as that”. To be able to self-assess with any accuracy requires a whole constellation of knowledge and skills. At the most basic level, a learner needs to be able to answer two important questions:
“What am I supposed to learn?” (the learning goal), and
“What does it look like to achieve this knowledge or skill?”(the success criteria).
Beyond that, learners must understand that self-assessment involves applying the success criteria to whatever thinking process, performance or product they are developing to show their learning. They also need to know how to do that — in other words, how to use the criteria to determine their strengths and areas for improvement and growth, and to make learning decisions based on the information that is generated from the self-assessment.
It is up to us to teach learners how to self-assess, and to provide the opportunities to do so.
We can support learners to become effective self-assessors by:
- Ensuring that learners know what they are supposed to learn, and what it looks like to achieve that learning.
- Modelling for students what it looks like to self-assess. This is often done with an anonymous sample of work or performance, with the educator thinking aloud as he/she applies the criteria.
- Guiding the whole class or a small group in applying the criteria to a sample.
- Planning experiences that require learners to give each other feedback using the criteria (peer assessment). The educator’s role in this case is to circulate and give feedback specifically about how well the learners are using the success criteria to assess (not evaluate!) each other’s product or performance.
- Planning experiences that require learners to use the success criteria to self-assess,, and record the information, with feedback from the educator specifically about how well the learner has assessed their own product or performance.
The practice of teaching learners to be assessors, both self and peer, doesn’t stand alone. It is part of an approach to teaching and learning that includes the assessment process which generates descriptive feedback to help learners move forward. While educators may be the first source of this feedback for learners, as we build their assessment skills, they are empowered to also become valid and reliable sources of feedback for themselves and others.
One last thought and a call to action:
The benefits of teaching students to self and peer assess are significant. By teaching learners these skills, we can empower them to become independent, autonomous learners. Like the old adage, we are ‘teaching them to fish’ rather than just providing the fish.
Have you tried having your students self or peer assess? What happened? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us so that we can learn together about teaching students this important skill.
Ontario Ministry of Education (2010). Growing success: Assessment, evaluation, and reporting in Ontario schools. Toronto: Ontario. Available at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/success.html
Ontario Ministry of Education (2016). Growing success – The Kindergarten Addendum: Assessment, evaluation, and reporting in Ontario schools. Toronto: Ontario. Available at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growingSuccessAddendum.html
Torrance, H. & Pryor, J. (1998). Investigating Formative Assessment: Teaching, Learning and Assessment in the Classroom. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.