The Power of Self-Assessment

Today, educators are being called to help empower students to own their learning through the experience of exploring, questioning, and interacting.

Assessment & Evaluation December 21, 2020

When was the last time you learned something new that interested you? Maybe you wanted to learn something specific that would improve your life or maybe you decided to learn a new skill. Either way, you probably had fun learning something that you chose. As you were learning, did you give yourself a grade or wait for a test before continuing? Probably not. That sounds a little ridiculous. When we learn we are active. We explore, ask questions, reflect on our understanding, think about our thinking, assess our progress, and make adjustments as needed. Essentially we are actively practicing metacognition and often do not even realize it! John Spenser and A.J. Juliani (2017) explain self-assessment like this: “Assessment is everywhere. But it feels invisible because it’s less like a noun and more like a verb. In other words, assessment is something we do – not something we give and take” (p. 127). Self-assessment often comes naturally to an adult who is learning something of interest. So how do we go about teaching the life skill of self-assessment to our students? And how can self-assessment work in an online classroom?

Today, educators are being called to help empower students to own their learning through the experience of exploring, questioning, and interacting and to develop and transform their thinking so they can apply it to their daily lives. Educators are called to build classrooms that support deeper learning, are more student-centred, include flexibility, and prepare students for the future. Essentially, this would aid students to be metacognitive, to think about their thinking and how it has grown and changed them. When students begin to exercise self-assessment they put into practice authentic intrinsic learning.

So how can we empower our students to be metacognitive and self-assess? Whether in a brick and mortar school or in a digital learning environment, teachers need to be intentional at incorporating opportunities for students to participate in the self-assessment process. Here are some practical ways I have implemented self-assessment in my brick and mortar and online classroom over the years.

Model, Model, Model. Students love it when their teacher shares about his or her childhood, successes, and struggles. Why not model what you are learning in your live classes? By sharing your learning process you can model metacognition, how you overcome struggles, why failing can be positive, and how to move on and try again.

Data Notebooks. Have students keep a data notebook where they can visually keep track of goals, behaviours, and achievements. Use graphs, written goal setting, and checklists as well as online resources such as Google Forms, Kiddom, and Sown to Grow. Data notebooks provide students with specific individual information about their academic strengths and weaknesses and allow students to set and revise goals, reflect on struggles, and celebrate successes.

Visuals and Written Reflections. Before beginning a unit, have students create a web of everything they know or think about the chosen topic. At the end of the unit have students use a different colour and come back and add to their web what they now know about the topic. The coloured web will give students a visual of their learning growth. It will also give them an opportunity to reflect on how their thinking has grown and changed. In an online setting, this is an intentional assignment I use to start and finish every unit so that students, parents, and teachers can see learning growth. Students can do this on paper and submit a scan of their assignment or use online resources, such as, Lucid Chart, or Popplet.

Rubrics. Twice a year I have my students fill out a self-assessment survey where they have the opportunity to reflect on how they are doing in areas such as communication, creative thinking, critical thinking, social responsibility, personal awareness and responsibility, and positive personality and cultural identity. Students are not only given opportunities to self-assess but are asked to reflect on how they can grow.

3 Stars and a Wish. This activity can be done orally or through written reflection. It invites students to record three areas they feel they have made exceptional progress in. Then they are asked to take a moment to think about an area they wish to grow in. This is also a great activity for parent participation.

One-On-One Conferences. Offer teacher-student one-on-one conferences where students can ask for advice, ask questions based on areas they may be struggling, be lead in reflective metacognition and set and monitor goals.

Student-Led Conferences. Student-led conferences are a great way for students to reflect and share their thinking and learning processes with others. Leading up to student-led conference students prepare assignments and projects that they have worked on and want to share with their parents, or in an online situation with their teachers. Students engage in the reflecting process when choosing what to share. Encourage students to share the struggles along with the successes.

No matter how you choose to implement self-assessment in your classroom, it is an essential life skill that allows students to practice being metacognitive. Not only will it engage students to interact with their learning but it will also giving teachers a glimpse into student thinking.

Covey, S. R. (2014). The leader in me: how schools and parents around the world are inspiring

greatness, one child at a time. London: Simon & Schuster.

Gear, A. (2018). Powerful understanding: helping students explore, question, and transform

their thinking about… themselves and the world around them. Markham, ON: Pembroke Publishers.

Spencer, J., & Juliani, A. J. (2017). Empower: what happens when students own their learning.

San Diego, CA: IMpress.


Angela McQueen

Angela, MEd, is the K-4 teacher at West Coast Adventist School in British Columbia Canada. She has worked as an elementary teacher for the BC Conference for the past 14 years. She has a love for sharing Jesus with children and creating engaging and fun learning experiences.

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