Think about the last time that you learned something brand new. For many educators, this can sometimes be a challenge. After all, we tend to go into careers based on our expertise, and by the time we are well-situated in our chosen fields, we have likely been building on a solid knowledge base for years.
Maybe we have to look outside of our professions to remember what it’s like to be brand new at something. Taking up a brand new hobby, playing a new sport or taking a new fitness class, or learning to use a particular piece of software for the first time could all be experiences that push adults to remember what it’s like to be new at something.
When we have these experiences, we likely fall back on the strategies that we picked up as students to check in on our progress and adjust in order to meet the goals we’ve set for ourselves.
One of these key strategies that we may or may not recognize in our won learning experiences is self-assessment, and it is a crucial skill to help our students build the lifelong learning skills they’ll need for future success.
Self-assessment happens all of the time through ways both formal and informal. Any time that we check in on our progress and compare it to our goals, we are conducting self-assessment. When we make a new recipe and taste the end result, making note of the need for less salt and a lower baking time, we have made a self-assessment. When we run a 5k and check in on our stamina and pace, making a plan for more practice before the next race, we are conducting self-assessment.
In the classroom, there are dozens of ways to bring self-assessment to the forefront. Some of them are quite involved and could become lesson plans of their own. Students can build their own rubrics, identifying their own goals and then using those rubrics to assess anything from an essay to a test to a project.
Other forms of self-assessment can take only a few minutes and act as a quick check in on the students’ understanding of the day’s lesson plan. A simple traffic light analogy of red (for stuck), yellow (for confusion), or green (for ready to move on) can help students check in on their understanding of a concept. A two-minute essay that asks students to write one thing they’ve learned and two questions they have can serve as a jumping off point for the next day’s lesson.
Whatever form it takes, the principles and strengths of self-assessment remain constant.
Self-assessment is so important because it does what no teacher can do for students: it gives them the tools to check in on their own progress. While formal external assessment—whether in the form of a portfolio, a single assignment, or a final exam—gives educators a chance to check students’ learning outcomes against their own goals, self-assessment gives students the chance to have more autonomy and agency over their progress.
Self-assessments can happen with much more frequency than formal external assessment. While a student may only have formal assessment in a class a few times over a course, self-assessment can happen daily. It provides opportunities for changing approaches to class material and helps students see what is working and what isn’t—important lessons they can carry into other classes as well.
At its core, self-assessment is rooted in reflection. By asking students to consciously look back at the work they’ve produced and the efforts they’ve made, they are necessarily more aware of their learning process. That awareness is key to reaching their full educational potential.
While self-assessment can sometimes be difficult for students, particularly if engaging in this reflection makes academic shortfalls more evident, the difficulty itself may be beneficial. Research into psychology shows that the discomfort we feel when we recognize the discrepancy between our goals and our actions is actually a source of motivation for change.
By helping students learn to engage in this practice early and often (especially when they have the opportunity to make changes before final grades or high-stakes assessment) will ensure that students have this important skill available to them throughout their lives.