Help Students Learn How to Self-Assess

In a discussion of the use of self-assessment in the classroom, a colleague pointed out that, potentially, not enough time is spent on emphasizing the importance of being self-critical. In her class, she used a set of self-assessment questions at the end of a research project, but she noted that “students spend the least amount of time on this, usually answering, ‘Yes, I did it well,’ or ‘No, there is no room for improvement.’”

Her question was how to get students to engage in the practice of self-assessment as well as how to get them to understand how important it really was.

The student responses above are the kinds of answers I would get from my classes when I first began asking them to evaluate their own essays. Although with teenagers, I’d get something more like, “It’s good enough. Whatever…” (with an accompanying eye-roll for emphasis). 

But we have to consider that the ability to self-assess is one of the most difficult of the self-skills. It's not really a fun thing to do, self-evaluation.  It’s also a “thinking” skill that teenagers seriously lack. Their self-perspectives are often distorted. Thus, having them practice this skill with their writing, in particular, may help them not only improve their essays but improve their ability to self-perceive. 

It’s not something that we can throw out there to a group of students, though, as “Let’s self-assess our writing, today.” It’s crucial that we personally have a strong grip on it before we launch the idea.We have to ask ourselves:

  •  How well am I able to self-assess my own writing?   
  • How well am I able to determine what my strengths and weaknesses are?

These questions might lead us to:

  •  Have I written something or done something that I can self-assess?   

I think we sometimes underestimate the need for and impact of role-modeling, particularly as it applies to any sort of self-criticism. Finding the time can be an obstacle, but I'm wondering if it's more so that we don't' realize the importance of modeling this particular skill-set.

       We have to be comfortable criticizing ourselves and our own work, if we expect students to do 
        the same.  

In the Language Arts curriculum, writing alongside students can be the first step in guiding them to stronger self-assessment skills. 

For example, if you have a timed writing prompt, write the essay along with the class—same topic, same time parameters.  I would use this approach for a few reasons: (1) to ensure that I had a better grasp of the question, (2) to model the writing process (warts and all), and (3) to have an authentic point of reference when reviewing their work and in any discussions we’d have about the rubric. 

Then, we’d evaluate.  I’d share my writing with them in some way (sometimes, I’d just read it aloud), and then, I’d identify what I found to be a strong element (basing it back on the principles from a rubric), and what I thought needed work. I would also explain why something was strong or weak, in my opinion and based on the rubric.

That why is crucial. All too often students stumble onto a turn of phrase or idea, and they think it’s a one-time thing that they’ve done well. It’s NOT. Whatever they’ve done well can be repeated because it will reflect a principle of writing. The key lies in identifying the principle. 

Having the teacher tear her own work apart released their apprehensions in doing so themselves. Much like a counseling group, everyone would open up, once they felt safe. This approach served as a model of intellectual humility, and it also aided in cultivating a classroom culture of continuous improvement. Not just for the students, but for the teacher, too.  

If we want students to self-assess, then we'll need to show them how. How willing are we to model self assessment?

Mindy and some of her former students wrote Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Creating the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers--a philosophy, method, and timely application of strategies that span the school year. A collaborative effort from all over the globe, the dialogue between this teacher and her former students presents both the wholeness of teaching and a model of how to build rapport, engage high school students in their experience, and enrich learning at the secondary level of education.

No comments:

Post a Comment