February 1st, 2012

Student Self-Assessment: A Sample Assignment


For me examples are like pictures; worth a 1,000 words. In last week’s post I wrote about the need to intervene in the development of student self-assessment skills, leaving the process less to chance and making it more the result of purposeful intervention. At a recent Teaching Professor Workshop, I saw an assignment that illustrates that kind of intervention. It was from a 100-level, Introduction to U.S. Government course, but is adaptable to any course. The assignment has two parts and they are the first and last pieces of work students complete in the course.

First Assignment – Personal Goals Statement
Prepare a paper (at least 750 words) that identifies your personal goals for this course. This statement should be specific and detailed. The paper should also contain a description of how you plan to meet your goals. If it helps, you are welcome to set weekly goals and a time schedule. You should do whatever will help you think through why you are taking this particular course and how it fits in with your overall learning goals.

Last Assignment – What Have You Learned from the Class?
Write a self evaluation paper (at least 750 words) in which you analyze how well you met your personal goals for the course. If your goals changed, discuss how and if unforeseen goals emerged, describe what they were. Conclude the paper by assigning yourself an overall-grade based on your performance in the course. That grade will constitute 10 of the 30 points available for this assignment.

What a great way to help students start the course thinking about how it might be relevant to them. The instructor of this course reports that many students have personal goals related to grades. He understands that and accepts it. His goal is to help students see that there is more to the course than just a grade—that the content is meaningful and useful independent of the grade.

I don’t think many students think in terms of specific learning goals. For many, doing so will probably start out feeling like just another one of those required assignments, but having to come up with goals is a useful exercise, even if at that time students aren’t all that committed to their goals. Beyond goals, you could ask student to identify two or three things they’d like to learn in the course. You might need to explain that other than learning things related the content, they might want to develop a learning skill; like how to write better, or how to ask questions, or how to construct an argument.

You could follow up after the first paper has been submitted by sharing two or three learning goals you have for students. You may even want to share a learning goal you’ve set for yourself, such as how to use a particular instructional strategy. Discussion of individual and course goals should happen regularly during the course. If what’s happening in class one day directly relates to a student goal, you could point that out. After providing feedback to the class on a set of assignments, you might ask them what progress they think they are making toward various learning goals. Don’t expect a vibrant discussion the first time you ask, as this is not a question students are used to answering. Yet even brief mentions of goals will remind students that goals should be a part of their thinking about this course.

The real value of the assignment is the final paper where students return to their goals and assess how well they reached them. You could prompt students to provide examples illustrating how their goals were achieved. If a goal hasn’t been reached, there needs to be a discussion of why. Ask if they were starting the course over, would they set the same goals or others?

Many different iterations of the assignment are possible. In a variety of forms, it’s an assignment that develops self-assessment skills by challenging students to make the course meaningful to them. Courses should not be something instructors do unto students. In any learning endeavor, students should have goals. They should be able to articulate what they hope to take from the experience. Here’s an assignment that provides the opportunity to develop those skills.

What are some ways you help your students create goals and assess their progress? Please share in the comment box below.

17 comments on “Student Self-Assessment: A Sample Assignment

  1. I think that this appraoch is potentially incredibly rich and useful but in practice my experience has been that the goals I hear are very concrete and content focused whereas the goals I have tend to be process oriented and are more about ways of seeing and ways of approaches to thinking In addition, I am not sure that people are very good at self assessment in areas where they don't yet know what they don't yet know. Experts I think tend to be better at assessing themselves than neophytes and novices and I am not sure that I know how to provide tools to neophytes (undergraduates who are taking an advanced level sociology of medicine course but who are not necesarily undertaking a degree in sociology) to help them assess themselves with more acuity.

    • I do agree that reflective learning has its benefits. But, you are on to something when you stated "I am not sure that people are very good at self assessment in areas where they don't yet know what they don't yet know." I see this within the nursing field. We expect novice nurses to be able to critically think in life and death situations; yet, they have no true frame of reference to do such. Experience in the clinical arena and a solid understanding of pathology and pathophysiology facilitates this. Therefore, reflections of clinical experiences are beneficial, but they may be missing many critical elements in the clinical picture that they are just unaware of. As an expert clinician, it is much easier for me to reflect on an experience and learn from those reflections than when I was a novice nurse.

      • I agree that novice learners may not be able to self-assess objectively or with much accuracy when it comes to higher-order thinking within a new subject area. However, in my experience with first-semester college composition students, they can provide subjective insights into their performances that tend to be fairly accurate at identifying surface level strengths and weaknesses and which can be very insightful for me. I ask my students to assess their writing, and I provide feedback on their self-assessments, adding my own expert, objective assessment to their subjective self-assessment. With this type of assessment dialogue, I find that students often progress as writers much more quickly than past students who were simply relying on my assessment of their work.

        • You made a great point. It really does depend upon the content and definitely promotes student centered learning.

  2. We have used this as well. We also had a self-assessment follow-up at the end of the semester.
    Another vehicle we used was called the "Prism Series". It's purpose was several fold (1) get students to think outside their own self-imposed boxes (2) student understanding and empathy for another person's point of view (3) encourage possibility thinking. The Prism Series was used in conjunction with learning goals, reading and research assignments, and discussions.

  3. I like the idea however with self-reflection assignments I find those you already do it don't have an issue but those that don't do lousy as they have no idea. Now that we have seen the assignment how about discussing how to evaluate this type of assignment and a possible rubric since – what is the student grading on and what is the instructor grading on – here is the biggest drawback (or likely wiser minds will prevail).

    • Hi everybody.
      This is so nice and your faculty focus is nice,too. I really appreciate everything you provide me with.
      I have a simple request. Could you provide me with conducted studies on this subject; self assessment.
      Please do and very grateful to you in advance.
      Best regards,
      M. M. Mohaidat

  4. This is a fine assignment: it is also a fair assessment for students to present, since it is tied to the inital goal-setting assignment. – without that, what would the rubric be for this self assessment?
    David A

  5. Well, I am from Costa Rica, and I am a teacher for adults and I try to ask them to do things that can have a signigicate for them, I use the ABP, Case Method, and we discuse the cases and problems in class and I leave them bring class the cases and problems of theirs jobs. The result: a very interesting class and all learn always something for the rest of our lives!!

    I love your web, I find always something amazing for my job as a teacher!!!

  6. I use student reflection in many of my classes. I have developed a "personal Learning Plan / Project that usually includes some or all of the following, depending upon the course:
    1. I list the course outcomes ( and some module outcomes) in a checklist and have them self- assess their current ability to meet these outcomes. Often a simple checklist and "rank yourself" on a scale of 1 – 5 works well. I usually leave room for brief comments
    2. Based on this assessment, they identify a plan for meeting these outcomes using information about their learning strengths
    3. We check on progress at least 2x a year; they re-assess their ability to meet the outcomes.
    4. The final checklist involves a more comprehensive reflection, and a plan for continued growth in the area.
    5. Sometimes I use a "letter to myself". In the first week I have them write a letter to themselves, telling them what they hope to accomplish in this course, and why. I also encourage them to discuss ways they will reach their goals. I have them seal the envelope and give it to me. I return it to them a couple of weeks before class is done. They then reflect on how well they met their goals, and what they can still accomplish in the next couple of weeks.

  7. I use a self-assessment at the end of my online courses by asking the students to reflect upon what they learned in the class and to offer advice to their successors. The students write letters in a Memo format (Since I am teaching them business English) on "Tips to Survive in Business English 185." I find this exercise useful in terms of the students' reflecting on what worked and did not work in their online learning experience. At times, the letters are both thoughtful and humorous.

  8. Hello, I am so impressed by your new approach to what I generally call a learning contract that I have with my students which is based on Knowle's ideas. Most times the students lose sight of the contract and mid way into the course stop documenting. I will report at the end of the course how your ideas have worked with my group of students who are doing an Adult Learning Methods class.

    Hope there are no copyright issues borrowing such an excellent idea. This forum has been very useful with ideas for my online class.

  9. For an extended discussion of this kind of reflective writing used to organize an entire first-year writing course see

    Jeff Sommers, Reflection Revisited: The Class Collage.” Journal of Basic Writing. 30:1 (Spring 2011), 99-129.

  10. Like Jeff, I used an exercise somewhat like this in a first-year writing course–about 20 years ago. The text we were using had an assignment asking students to state their goals as writers. Though I was pretty experienced by this time, using this particular ungraded exercise was pretty much un-pre-meditated on my part–I just did it because it was in the book. I didn't do the book-end reflection on the other end of the course, but I did find the goals exercise really useful for my own purposes. Nearly every device/strategy/approach/concept covered throughout the semester could be introduced by saying, "Some of you, in your goals for this course, said you wanted to do better at . . .." I'd do it again.

  11. Great article and sample assignment. It seems to me that having a student write their goals and reflect on them will lead to more engaged learners. In a goal setting assignment that I ask my students to do at the beginning of the quarter, I ask them to turn in their goals along with a paragraph outlining the consequences to themselves and the consequences to others of they do not meet their goals. Students sometimes comment that this is something they had not thought seriously about. I particularly liked the final assignment in this article where students are asked to discuss if they would set the same goals if they were starting the course over. This should give insight into future goal setting for the student.

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