March 12th, 2009

Self-Assessment Should Play a Central Role in Review and Revision


I’ve been reading some articles on self-assessment—as in having students look at their own work and come to some conclusions about its quality. Most faculty don’t let students self-assess and for good reasons. Most students can’t get past the grade they would like to the one they deserve. Moreover, several of the studies I’ve read document that when given the opportunity, given the criteria, and even given some guidance, students still see the activity as an opportunity to figure out what the instructor wants and/or would likely give them on the completed work. Almost none of them see self-assessment as a useful skill.

One of the articles highlighted in the upcoming April issue of The Teaching Professor suggests that we reframe the activity: we show students how careful, systematic self-assessment enables them to make changes that improve their work and thereby get them better grades. The point being we need to disconnect self-assessment from assigning grades and give it a more central role in the review and revise process. It then becomes about how students decide what might need to be fixed, reworked, or replaced.

Most students are pretty dismal when it comes to looking at their work objectively. Repeatedly in interviews with researchers they report they have no experience doing this and no sense of how to proceed. The idea that they can make an assessment independent of the teacher’s is foreign and that they might even be right and the teacher wrong unthinkable. I used to enjoy telling my students that my very first publication was a paper I wrote in graduate school on which I received a D+. The story was met with looks of disbelief.

Issues of quality are tied to self-assessment activities. Students need to learn how to spot quality (or potential quality) in their work just as they need to be able to see what merits fixing. Being able to fix it, requires another set of skills, but the revise process is much more happenstance if students can’t correctly identify what needs to be fixed.

As I wrote for the April issue, self-assessment is an important professional skill. Once teachers aren’t there to dole out the grades that indicate whether something is good, student are left to make those judgments themselves. If they haven’t had any experience and don’t feel particularly confident, it’s not a pretty process and not one likely to produce accurate assessments.

In the next post, I will provide some quick and easy ways to start developing these skills of self-assessment.

Meanwhile here’s the reference that suggests reframing self-assessment activities: Andreade, H. and Du, Y. (2007). Student responses to criteria-referenced self-assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 32 (2), 159-181.

—Maryellen Weimer