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Saturday, November 12, 2016

How Student Self-Evaluation Makes All the Difference

"Here you go. I'm done and reading for you to mark it," the smiling grade 8 student says as they hold a completed assignment in front of me with a big smile.

"Ok," I reply. "Let's have a look first."

The student's smile changes to a grin and then slowly fades away. "For what?" they say, "It's done, right?"

Now the fun begins....time to find out the true value and merit of their work. 

My first question will frame the whole conversation. "What mark would you give it?"

Now, before you start thinking about all the students who would freeze up, shrug their shoulders and stand there looking puzzled without being able to articulate an answer - I can tell you that they are not just capable of marking their own work - they are highly accurate and reflective when given the right tools to do so. 

"I don't know......I'm not good at this...." the student tries to evade the question.

"Yes. You are. Who else - but you - knows how much effort you put into completing this assignment?"

"Now let's try it again. Think about what the expectations were for the task. Think about how hard you worked on it. Think about the strengths you've shown in the work. Now, think about the advice I might give you about how to improve what you've done. What next steps would other students in the class identify if we all looked at it together?"

The student now knows that the shoulder shrug and "I don't know" won't cut it today. I've already shown that this conversation demands an answer. Ok. Time to think...

"Ummm...a 3-???" the student offers and watches my reaction to gauge if that was an acceptable response."

You see - the student is not just evaluating their own work. They are being asked to somehow predict how their teacher will mark it. By the time, they have become intermediate students, they have been trained into thinking that teacher is the one who holds the magic red pen that 'brands' each student assignment with a grade, based on the careful calculation of the success criteria, and sometimes, secret-hidden things that only teachers know. 

This has to change. 

As the teacher, I have learned to accept the student-suggested mark and not try to raise or lower it initially. But, rather, to ask questions like, "Are you happy with a 3-?" "Does that mark reflect the effort you put into it and learning shown in your work?" 

My personal favourite has become, "Why not a 4+? What could you change or add to make it a 4+?"

And here's where the real reflection and purpose of assessment takes place...

It's a win-win. If the student knows that it is not their best effort or can identify things to improve their work, they have no choice but to take the assignment back and use my feedback (which is really their own self-reflective feedback) and make improvements. 

"The primary purpose of assessment is to improve student learning"

Before this school year I would have allowed the student to hand the assignment in and resolve myself to marking it as it was. Now, I use these student conferences as an opportunity to improve student work and make the assessment process more transparent and attainable. 

I don't really care about the leveled mark I write on a student piece of work. I care about the learning that is taking place and the ability of the student to develop the skills necessary to reach their full potential and grow as a self-directed learner. 

How many individual marks on assignments would you remember from your grade eight year? In fact, how many actual learning activities and assignments would you remember from grade eight as a whole?

Allow the students to mark their own work. Frame their reflective capacity with purposeful questions. Demand that they are accountable for both their first draft and the improvements that they already know could be made (as they try to hand it in).

Improve student learning at the core. It shouldn't be a magic trick to earn a 4+. It should be an attainable target when students have an awareness of what is required. 

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