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Teach Me: Self-Assessment as a Competence

Teach Me: Self-Assessment as a Competence

As the school year comes to a close, teachers and students are compiling final reflections and assessments. Where we’re from, this means that teachers are collecting reflections and self-assessments from their students about their growth and progress in core (and possibly curricular) competencies: communication, thinking, and personal and social responsibility. 

But what about their self-assessment competence? 

If a student cannot self-assess with accuracy, doesn’t it render all subsequent assessments flawed? I’m reminded of the old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

It begs the question: when it comes to self-assessment, are we merely feeding our students—through opportunities to self-assess—or are we teaching them to fish—by giving them the necessary guidance, training, and practice?

Our edtech product doesn’t have a teacher assessment component. And we’re often asked, “What if the student doesn’t accurately assess themselves?” Well, as a teacher, that would be my starting point. My job is to train my students to evaluate themselves with accuracy so they feel empowered to guide their own learning. I can’t even count how many students have come up to me over the years asking, “Is this good?”--a question I often met with, “You tell me. What do you think?” 

There are many factors in the human condition that contribute to unrealistic self-assessments, including tendencies to (a) be unrealistically optimistic about one’s own abilities, (b) believe that one is above average, (c) neglect crucial information, and (d) have deficits in required information (Dunning, Heath, & Suls, 2004).

We need to address these tendencies. So, how do we teach self-assessment? Dr. Gavin Brown and Dr. Lois Ruth Harris, from the University of Auckland and Australian Catholic University respectively have dedicated years of research to self-assessment theory and practices.

Research has shown (Brown & Harris, 2013; Ross, 2006) that realistic self-assessments are more likely when: 

(1) students are involved in the process of establishing criteria for evaluating work outcomes; 
(2) students are taught how to apply those criteria; 
(3) students receive feedback from others (i.e., teachers and peers) to help move students toward more accurate evaluations; 
(4) students are taught how to use other assessment data (e.g., test scores or graded work) to improve their work; 
(5) there is psychological safety when self-evaluation is used; 
(6) when rewards for accuracy are used; and 
(7) when students are required to explicitly justify to their peers their self-evaluations. 

If I read this list last week, I could see ways to concretize #2-7 in my classroom, but #1 would’ve felt more elusive. 

Thankfully, I met up with my friend JP who’s currently wrapping up her Masters of Education in School Counselling. She introduced me to the Adlerian “Life Tasks” assessment, where the evaluator takes stock of their life from a holistic approach (Shelley 2013). I completed the assessment for myself: giving a present and desired rating for five aspects of my life, and justify my ratings. In other words, I established my own criteria. If present is Point A, and desired is point B, I had to justify not only what B looks like, but also what it’s going to take for me to move from point A to B. 

What might this look like for a student? Let’s say we ask our student, “Rate yourself 1-10 on your ability to participate well in groups.” 

  • Response: I’m going to say I’m a 6/10, but I want to be an 9/10. 

  • Thinking: I’m a 6 because sometimes I don’t really participate in groups. I just sit there and wait for someone to tell me what to do. I feel like a 9 is someone who talks more and gives ideas and does their fair share of work. I don’t know what a 10 looks like because that means you’d be perfect at group work and I don’t really know what that would mean, so I didn’t put a 10. 

Now, that’s obviously incredibly simplified and assumes the student has the wherewithal to reflect on that level.

It’s the cognitive process that I believe is so valuable: allowing students to determine their own goals on their terms.

By establishing a starting benchmark and a desired destination, they also lay the foundation of a plan. Then, my role as a teacher is to refine that plan if and when needed, and give my student the space and tools to execute their plan.

According to Brown and Harris (2014), “It should come as no surprise that both teachers and students will need training before they can engage with self-assessment as a taught and learned competence. New professional development materials and courses are needed that go beyond the exhortation to use student self-assessment.”

While I’ve added to the exhortations of student self-assessment, it is my hope that what we’ve built into Spinndle can help facilitate student and teacher engagement with self-assessment as a competence.


Dunning, D., Heath, C., & Suls, J. M. (2004). Flawed self-assessment: Implications for health, education, and the workplace. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5(3), 69-106. doi: 10.1111/j.1529- 1006.2004.00018.x 

Brown, G. T. L., & Harris, L. R. (2014). The future of self-assessment in classroom practice: Reframing self-assessment as a core competency. Frontiers of Learning Research. 3. 22-30. 10.14786/flr.v2i1.24. Available online.

Brown, G. T. L., & Harris, L. R. (2013). Student self-assessment. In J. H. McMillan (Ed.). The SAGE handbook of research on classroom assessment (pp. 367-393). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ross, J. A. (2006). The reliability, validity, and utility of self-assessment. Practical Assessment Research & Evaluation, 11(10), Available online.

Shelley, C.A. (2013). The life tasks revisited. Adlerian Yearbook 2013. (pp. 70-90). London: Adlerian Society (UK) and Institute for Individual Psychology.

feature: circe, spinndle, and learning in depth (LiD)

feature: circe, spinndle, and learning in depth (LiD)

proof of/for learning (pt. 2)

proof of/for learning (pt. 2)