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Self-Assessment for 21st Century Teaching and Learning

Thursday, September 12, 2013 -- Ketsia Hamilton

Ketsia Hamiliton, Edmentum’s National Assessment Consultant, continues with part two of her series, “The Educator as Analyst.” 

 “Ms. Hamilton, what’s my grade?”  If I had a dollar for every time this question was asked of me during my tenure as a classroom teacher, I probably could have retired from the profession a couple of years ahead of schedule!

This question is one that many teachers answer on a daily basis and speaks to how some students perceive assessment in the classroom as something that is done TO THEM as a means to end for receiving a grade, rather than FOR THEM in collaboration to support their learning process. Teachers’ providing the answers to how well a student is doing in a class or performed on a particular assignment is the traditional method of communicating progress and determining achievement.  However, 21st century teaching and learning focuses heavily on developing student competencies in the application of critical thinking skills and inspiring self-directed learners.  Both attributes can be difficult to assess on a multiple choice test but are critical to successfully competing in today’s global economy.  In their work with the Gordon Commission authors Carlos A. Torre and Michael R. Sampson emphasized in their essay, Toward a Culture of Educational Assessment in Daily Life, the need for self-assessment in the classroom as an essential component in shaping learning outcomes.

Self-Assessment can be defined as the “process of examining oneself as a way to evaluate what we’ve learned, how we have grown and changed over time, and how much we still need to go in order to achieve our own or society’s expectations.”  The more students understand about the process, the more control they have over how their behavior can be adjusted to positively impact their learning experience.   Creating a culture of self-assessment in the classroom leads students to answer the questions that support the development of critical analysis:  Do I really understand this?  How does this relate to what I learned yesterday? And, what can I do better next time?  This process of reflection is the first step in connecting learning goals to action and serves to increase collaboration between students and teachers.

While there are several resources available to support self-assessment in the classroom, the challenge for educators is creating the opportunity and time for which meaningful reflection is possible.  As the school year begins, think about designing experiences that contribute to students’ ability to drive their own learning and increase accountability of subject matter.  Below are a few examples from the National Council of Teachers of English that can be utilized across the curriculum to help you get started!

       Student Created Rubrics: Ask students to contribute to the creation of a rubric that defines success. A reading response task, a multi-modal presentation, or a group discussion leads to higher levels of learning when students are included in defining success.

       Learning Contract: Ask students to create and agree to a learning contract at the beginning of a unit. The learning contract can define the learning goals, the "photo album" of evidence of learning, and agreed upon activities. At numerous times during the unit, ask students to revisit the contract, record new learning or muddy points and to get feedback from you or other peers.

       Muddy Point Board: Designate an area in the room or a board for students to pin questions, muddy points, or topics they'd like the class to revisit. Asking students to periodically pick a question or comment from the board to discuss can build student ownership of learning.

       Nameless Voice: Ask students to anonymously submit sample work to share with the class. Sample paragraphs on the overhead, a visual vocabulary card, or a ticket out the door quick write can all be samples of student work that the class or individual students can use. Ask students to write or discuss how the nameless voice is similar or different to their understanding.

       Letter to a Future Student: At the conclusion of a unit, ask students to write a letter to a future student in the class explaining what they've learned in a unit or what to do when a text is difficult or what I've learned about my own learning that might help you, etc. Regardless of the topic, the medium provides useful feedback on student thinking and learning while promoting reflection on learning.

Incorporating self-assessment in the classroom opens new opportunities to engage with students in authentic ways making learning more relevant and positively impacting achievement.  Instead of answering “What’s my grade?”  the questions become:  “How well does my product/presentation fulfill all the requirements of the assignment?; What new questions do I now want to answer about the topic or idea?; Have I found enough accurate information to answer all my questions?; How can I express my own ideas creatively and effectively?”  Now these questions are priceless!