Self-Assessment: In Detail

In a few short weeks, my knowledge of self-assessment techniques for the student has been significantly augmented! I recently finished my first of two practica at John Barsby Community School, and my sponsor-teacher has been a wealth of information. His insight seems to correlate quite nicely with the academic literature I’ve reading on the subject, so I thought I would share some of our ideas here. If you’re an educator, I hope they’ll be useful to your practise.

Giving Good Feedback

Self-assessment can sometimes be difficult for students if they don’t know what good feedback looks like in general. So, a logical first place to start might be to teach your students how to give constructive feedback, so that they might understand how to help themselves in their education.

Maybe start with a peer-assessment project, and move to self-assessment later, once students know how to give good feedback, and once they have the benefit of another person’s perspective.

Some of my suggestions for what makes good feedback:

  • Feedback should be focused on improvement. Don’t say what’s wrong without suggesting how things could be better.
  • Start broad and move to the specific. Tackle the big issues first, moving to more specific issues later.
  • Be more positive than negative. People might feel that their work is a total disaster if there is more criticism than praise, even if the project is quite good and just needs several refinements.

Once the students get used to giving good feedback to others, they may know what to look for in their own work.

Co-Develop Project Criteria with Students

Here is a grossly underused technique for student engagement in the classroom, in my opinion: creating project criteria with your students.

Obviously, you as a teacher will need to set parameters on what the students suggest for criteria, but what better way is there to foster students’ ownership in their own learning than to give them a bit of self-determination and the intimate familiarity with the project? In creating criteria with the students, not only do they feel included and empowered, but there is also significantly less ambiguity as to what is expected, so everyone is on the proverbial same page.

I’ve used this technique twice in my practica so far, both times to great success. Here were the steps I took:

  • Create categories of criteria in advance. For example, in my French class, I and my co-teacher designed a project where students would make a poster about a French-speaking country and do a five-minute presentation on it. The two of us decided that “content”, “organisation” and “presentation” were good criteria categories for that project. (Depending on the project, you might consider other categories, such as “grammar”, “real-world relevance”, etc.)
  • Explain the situation to the students. Your students should be aware that since you are creating the criteria together, everyone should feel that they are fair and reasonable. With the privilege of negotiating the criteria comes an implicit agreement to follow them.
  • Have a quick question-and-answer session first. Many of your students may not understand the project yet, so feel free to answer their questions so they know which criteria to set.
  • Gather suggestions from the class for each of the categories. I collected the students’ suggestions as bullet points in a Word document they could see on the projector screen.
  • Ask students to review the criteria to suggest changes, additions or omissions. Let them know that this is the last chance to make changes.
  • That night, collate the students’ suggestions and organise them. We created a rubric based on a scale of 1 to 4 as to compliance to the agreed-upon criteria in each category. We also put detailed descriptions as to what each score in each category meant.
  • Print and distribute the criteria the following school day.

Again, let me emphasise that this is simply my method of co-developing project criteria; you may have your own already, so don’t take mine as the ultimate. In my limited experience with this technique, I’ve found this sequence works well with secondary students, but there certainly may be better ways.

Intertwine Smart Goal-Setting and Self-Assessment

What better time is there to help students learn to set goals than in school? Fortunately, goal-setting works hand-in-hand with self-assessment!

Ask students to set a goal over the short term (e.g. two weeks) or over the long term (e.g. a semester or a term). That way, with their newly formed feedback skills (see above) they will be able to know whether or not they are achieving them.

I feel it is crucial to guide the students into setting good goals, however.

Most goals your students may create at first are performance-oriented: in other words, goals that will be achieved when some milestone of excellence is passed. For example, a student may wish to win a particular award in Phys. Ed., or achieve a certain grade in Chemistry class. Performance-oriented goals aren’t usually good goals to set, since they are very rarely achieved, and this lack of achievement can be devastating for the student.

A wiser approach may be for the student to set habit-oriented goals, where changes in lifestyle lead to better learning. Examples of habit-oriented goals might be seeing a tutor several days a week, or perhaps allocating fifteen minutes every day to work on geography homework. These goals, while not necessarily easy, are more likely to be achieved, and will actively contribute to the student’s understanding of the subject.

Because teachers don’t have the ability (thankfully) to follow their students around everywhere they go, self-assessment provides a means of accountability. Students will know whether or not they’re achieving their goals, even if the teacher doesn’t.


Those are just three of many tips that you might encounter when it comes to bringing student self-assessment to your class. I’d encourage you to try it if you haven’t before; you may be surprised at how successful it can be!

If you would like to read some academic source material on the subject, I recommend the following studies:

  • Andradea, H.L., Dub Y., & Myceka K. “Rubric‐referenced self‐assessment and middle school students’ writing”. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice,
    Vol 17, Issue 2. April 2010.
  • Ross, J., Hogaboam-Grey, A., and Rolheiser, C. “Student Self-Evaluation in Grade 5-6 Mathematics Effects on Problem-Solving Achievement”. Educational Assessment, Vol 8, Issue 1. January 2010.
  • Ross. J., and Starling, M. “Self‐assessment in a technology‐supported environment: the case of grade 9 geography”. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, Vol 15, Issue 2. July 2008.

If you’ve had experiences with student self-assessment before, I would love to hear them in the comments below.

One thought on “Self-Assessment: In Detail

  1. Thanks again Jonathon. I think the steps you’ve outlined are critical for formative assessment processes to be successfully implemented in classrooms. It isn’t enough to try peer feedback once – have it fail and then never do it again. As your post indicates, these are processes that are involved and cannot be plopped onto a classroom haphazardly. Another component that I appreciated with your post was the fact that these ideas need to be taught just like any other skill. If we do not teach them, we end up with very ineffective processes that shouldn’t be used in classrooms – like really bad poster presentations with five kids gathered around a poster at the front of the room – there are presentation skills that can be taught!

    Thanks for the tips! I hope they continue to work for you.

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