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Student Self-Assessments

May 22, 2014

At the end of an English 2 oral exhibition last night on “Pride and Prejudice,” I asked the two students involved to assess the oral. Usually I thank them, give them some general feedback on the paper and maybe the oral, but only recently have I started to ask them to self-assess their effort. I’m coming to believe this step is valuable for them and for me.

The oral began with Alexandra King asking questions to Taylor Jaffe about Taylor’s paper for about 20 minutes. Alexandra was totally prepared with her questions; Taylor did some good, new thinking. Then they switched places, with Taylor asking Alexandra questions about Alexandra’s paper. These 20-25 minutes took off; both students engaged in a highly sophisticated discussion of the paper and the book. I was hardly involved in the discussion.

When the oral concluded, I asked the students if they could identify why the second half was stronger than the first: both students agreed this was indeed the case. Alexandra felt that she stayed too close to her pre-written questions, while in contrast she could sense Taylor was asking her questions that mattered at that immediate moment, questions that were building off what they each were discovering. Taylor felt she was more grounded in the text during Alexandra’s oral, allowing her to ask questions that started in a clear place.

What this moment showed me — and Katherine Crowley who was sitting in on the oral — was that students can self-assess their performance immediately, and they can learn from that. Alexandra wished she could have moved away from her pre-set questions: in many ways, Alexandra demonstrated more insight because she could see what she wasn’t doing as well as her peer — she became her own teacher, and set the agenda for the next performance.

The more opportunities we give students to self-reflect on what they’ve done, the more they will learn about how they learn and perform.  As coaches or directors, we ask them these immediate questions all the time; I’m coming to believe we can ask them such questions in academics just as much – not at the end of a course or unit, but right in the midst of the performance.

I am interested in any other ways you have found to ask students to self-assess their performances, and what you’ve seen and learned.

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