Schools are a hotbed for assessment. Teachers are assessed by administrators, administrators are assessed by the community and school board, and, of course, students are CONSTANTLY being assessed.
Some assessment by outside forces is inevitable; however, true, meaningful improvement always involves some aspect of self-assessment. We feel this intrinsically as teachers. Our assessment of our own teaching is critical to improvement, even though we are also assessed by others.
In order for your students to gain mastery in any area, they’ll need opportunities for authentic self-assessment.
What The Research Says About Self-Assessment
Self-assessment allows students to work in their zone of proximal development. Essentially what that means is that they are being challenged but not pushed too far. It also allows students to take ownership over their learning so that they become active in their learning process (Loveless).
Part of the reason they can work in their zone of proximal development is that self-assessment also allows for differentiated instruction. Each student’s work, progress, and goals are unique. So, while it may be impossible for a teacher to address the specific needs of every single student, when students have a clear framework for how to self-assess, their learning is entirely unique and meets them exactly where they are.
A 2009 study by Duke University conducted over 5 years found that increased student self-assessment and student efficacy led to significant improvement in student engagement and achievement (Brookhart, Moss, Long). In addition to the immediate improvements that come from self-assessment, it also guides students toward internalizing what it means to be a life-long learner, always improving upon their own work.
How To Bring Self-Assessment By Students Into Your Lessons
Start The Year With An Informal Self-Assessment By Students
The first few days of school allow you opportunities to get to know your students. This can be a great time to introduce the concepts of growth mindset and self-assessment.
One way to do this is through a beginning-of-the-year questionnaire. You can ask students questions about their reading and writing history. Here are a few ideas:
1.) Write about one writing assignment from a previous school year that you are proud of. Are you proud of it because of the grade you got, or are you proud of it because of something else?
2.) Write about your history as a reader. Has reading come easily, or has it been difficult?
3.) If you could go back and change one thing about your work habits from last year, what would you change? Why?
These are straightforward questions, but each one allows students an opportunity to reflect and self-assess. It also gives you insight into your students’ strengths and struggles right at the beginning of the year.
Another way you can introduce this skill early in the school year is through goal setting. Some teachers guide students in setting a S.M.A.R.T. goal for the year. The act of creating this goal and the subsequent examining of it will inevitably lead students toward self-reflection and self-assessment.
Incorporate Student Self-Assessment In Your Bell Ringers
Bell-ringers provide a perfect opportunity for students to assess their writing regularly because the nature of the bell-ringer is that it is short. Frequent, short self-assessments can allow students to internalize this skill.
One way to use self-assessment in the form of bell-ringers is to guide students in looking at past bell ringers. For instance, if you typically require students to do writing prompts or journal entries for bell-ringers, give them one day when they must look at the last 5-10 bell ringers and choose one that they think is strong. Have them work with it for 10 minutes to make it stronger. They can work on writing craft, grammar, fluency, or content by adding more ideas to it.
Conversely, you could have students work on a weak entry. They could consider the same things.
When I do bell ringers, I like to focus on mentor sentences and having students imitate the mentor sentence. After doing several of these, I require students look back at their bell-ringers and choose one that is well done. I ask them to do even more with it, and then share it with partners or the class.
Use Self-Assessment At The End of Class Or As An Exit Ticket
The end of a class period is a natural time for students to assess what they’ve been doing and can provide a simple “exit ticket.”
I like to do this on days when we’ve spent an entire class period on a single grammar or writing concept.
For instance, if we have spent a class period on opening adverbs I will have required students to read mentor sentences with opening adverbs, observe what’s going on in these mentor sentences, imitate the mentor sentence using sentence frames, then craft their own original sentence or sentences based on a video writing prompt.
The very last part of the lesson is always to look back over all the sentences they have written that class period with opening adverbs and THEY alone determine which one is the strongest. Then, they must think about why that one is the strongest.
This exercise is a natural end to the class period, but it’s so necessary. First, it provides students a chance to evaluate their improvement and understanding, but it also shows them that they can improve their writing. It deals with students’ common obstacle that they just won’t ever be better writers. Through doing this simple self-assessment, they will notice that even in a single class period, their writing did improve.
I’d love to send you two free lessons that show you exactly how you can teach grammar with mentor sentences that allow for improved writing. You can get those free here.
Allow Students Time To Self-Assess As Extra Credit Or To Replace A Missing Grade
I don’t know where you stand on this, but when I taught 9th graders, they needed some grace regarding missing grades.
However, I would not just allow them to doodle something to replace a missing grade. When they were desperate for that “0” to come off the grade report, I’d give them something meaningful to do.
I might say something like this:
“If you’d like to replace your lowest grade, take some time during this class period and look at the last writing assignment you did for this class. Write one paragraph about what you did really well in that writing assignment and give some specific examples of sentences you’re proud of. Then, write a second paragraph about your biggest weakness in this writing assignment and give me an example or two.”
I suggest using most of the class period (if not all) for students to do this. If they finish early, let them read, doodle, or do HW for another class.
I also suggest you don’t really grade these.
The purpose is for students to self-reflect. If they turn in 2 paragraphs--awesome. Replace that low grade in the grade book with a 100% and know they did something meaningful.
Also, if you do this in class, you should spend your time grading/planning/catching up. The point is they should self-reflect, so they don’t need you at all that class period. It is a WIN-WIN.
Allow Students To Reflect and Assess At the End Of The Year
This concept is along the lines of the lesson I detailed above, but more formal.
For this reflection, require that students bring in all their writing from the school year, or be sure they have access to it if it’s on a computer. They should then spend some real time examining how they grew as a writer over the course of the school year.
This should be a life-giving and empowering time for them. By tracking progress, people feel better about who they are and what they are capable of learning and doing.
I provide explicit directions for what to think about as well as specific aspects of their paper to focus on to rewrite, etc.
Self-Assessment Beyond Your Classroom
By using these tools regularly in your classroom, you are setting up students for success beyond your classroom. They will internalize the process and start doing this naturally when they write.
Do you have a method of teaching grammar in a meaningful way that incorporates students’ self-assessment?
If not, check out my full-year grammar curriculum here. I guide you through every single lesson with the video tutorials I’ve included, and I give you every lesson, handout, game, quiz, and writing prompt you’ll need. It also includes all the ideas I’ve mentioned in this post including the beginning-of-the-year lesson and the end-of-the-year writing assessment.
Allowing self-assessment by students will empower them toward growth and give them the skills to continue growing, learning, and improving whether or not there is a formal test involved.
- Helping Students Thrive By Using Self Assessment
- Why Use Self-Assessment
- Student Self-Assessment Practices That Work (Opinion) (edweek.org)
- Stimulate your students with these 10 creative self assessment ideas
- 3 Steps To Measuring Growth in Students' Skills - SmithTeaches9to12