The 5 Best Self-Assessment Practices for Your Learners

The assumptions we have about how self-assessment practices can be used keep us from exploring its positive effects on students and learning.

Ed note: This is an updated version of our original article on best self-assessment practices.

How do we begin encouraging the best self-assessment practices for benefitting our learners? Perhaps we’re beginning with the wrong question. Instead, we should begin by looking at the common perceptions around the idea. From there, hopefully we’ll persuade you to begin using it with your students.

As we’ve discussed before, assessment is a hotly debated topic in education. Mostly we see assessment as something we do for students, but certainly not with them. However, the assumptions we have about how self-assessment practices can be used keep us from exploring its positive effects on students and learning.

For one thing, many teachers don’t want to give control to the students. Often this is because they feel they are incapable of assessing themselves. In addition, some teachers are afraid of no longer being needed should this crucial part of teaching ever get taken over by learners. These fears are more common than you might think, so let’s see if we can help put them to rest.

Why Encourage Self-Assessment?

To begin with, the first question we should ask is why we’re assessing our learners. Usually, it’s to improve learning. If so, then we should be working strictly on formative assessment. As we say in our book Mindful Assessment, this is the only format that improves learning outcomes. Often the response to this is, “Well, we still have to report on the learning.” Perhaps, but in that case, doesn’t assessment become more about reporting than improving learning?

The next question is about how we’re assessing. Our self-assessment practices must involve students in the development, application and reporting of assessment. The truth is when we let students assess themselves, the results are pride in their learning, a sense of ownership of their efforts, and increased higher-order thinking capacity. Moreover, with the best self-assessment practices, the teacher has the most important role as the moderator of the assessment. After all, the best piece of technology we’ll ever have in any classroom is still a teacher. Although their role is transforming, the importance of it isn’t diminishing.

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Activities for Best Self-Assessment Practices

When assessment is clear, fair, and transparent, learners can display an amazing level of commitment to it. In fact, learners are much harsher in assessing their own work than we as teachers would ever be. 

Students are usually frank and honest in their own assessment of their own performance and that of their peers.

The best self-assessment practices don’t have to be complicated, either. It can begin by using a simple debrief as we do with Solution Fluency. From there, it can evolve to tasks such as co-constructing success criteria or creating their own evidence statements. Try some of the activities below for self-assessment and see how your learners get on with assessing themselves. Remember, you’re just as vital to this process as they are.

1. Share Your Intentions: Before your next lesson, discuss learning intentions and criteria for success you want to establish fully with your learners. Discover what insights they have about what those criteria should be and how they can determine them as a class.

2. Let Them Lead: Ask different students to lead discussions and pose questions to the class about certain topics.

3. Teacher for a Week: Assign each student a few days or a week where they get to act as the teacher for a set amount of time. You can get the students involved in this far in advance so they have plenty of time to prepare. They can pick a concept or idea to show the class a little bit of each day for the designated time period. Be on hand to offer them insights on how best to do this and to help them with planning.

4. Self-Reflection Journey: During a lesson, encourage learners to mindfully explore reflective questions like:

  • Am I asking questions while I’m learning?
  • Am I formulating answers while I’m learning?
  • Am I investigating answers to my questions?
  • Do I understand the importance of what I’m learning?
  • Am I becoming more curious about what I’m learning?
  • Can I add something to my teacher’s explanations?
  • Can I challenge conventional points of view?
  • Can I communicate different points of view?
  • Are my communication skills improving?

5. One-Minute Papers: At the end of a class, take time to give students blank cards or paper and have them write responses to the following two questions:

  • What was the most significant thing you learned today?
  • What question is still uppermost in your mind?

Experiment with other questions that you can ask your students at the close of a lesson. Another variation of this is 3–2–1, where you ask your students to list items such as three things that interested them, two questions they have, and one thing that surprised them.

Additional Reading