How to Help Students Conduct Self-Assessments

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We want students to self-assess, but the reality is that it doesn't happen by itself. Teachers need to create structures in their classrooms that provide opportunities for students to engage in meaningful self-assessments.

Encouraging Student Reflective Activities

Enabling students to use self-assessments starts with getting them to engage in reflective activities. The beauty of reflective activities is that they can be done in a variety of ways and customized according to any student population in your classroom. There are several ways to engage students in self-reflection activities that can help them acquire skills that will benefit them for a lifetime. These include writing prompts and student-led conferences.

Using Writing Prompts

Engaging students in reflective activities can be tricky because they're often reluctant to really comment on the quality of their own work. The simplest way to get students involved in reflective activities is to engage them in writing prompts. When you engage students in conferences and reflective activities, design prompts in such a way as to elicit specific types of information from them. For example, design prompts to help them articulate information they already know or struggles they are having with current content in class.


One way of engaging students in the prompts is through one-to-one conversations, either verbally or in writing. For example, you can use the prompts you have designed as part of your classroom instruction. Students can respond by writing in journals. These journals can become a conversation between you and your students, where you write back and forth to each other.

Other times, you may have students use their written reflections in conversations with you about their learning, or as part of setting goals in class. Students can also use their reflections to create review materials to help them prepare for tests.

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Organizing Student-Led Conferences

Student led-conferences can be a powerful means of engaging students in self-reflection, especially for those who have a history of struggling academically or behaviorally. In a student-led conference, students take a lead role in preparing and conducting the session.


When using the conferencing format, have students come prepared with a portfolio of work so they can discuss their strengths and challenges in the course, along with lists of missing assignments if necessary. Students then present their portfolios to their parents and teachers in the conference. Teachers serve as facilitators, asking probing questions to get students to a greater depth of self-reflection. You can even provide parents with some suggestions for posing their own questions during the conference.

Post-Conference Activities

Successful conferences can help students set future goals with the support of their parents and teachers. After the meeting, it may be helpful to provide parents with a template for writing positive letters to their children. Students can also write a reflection that addresses the positives and negatives of the conference. Pre-conference and post-conference activities, conducted under the direction of teachers or guidance counselors, engage students in self-reflection on a deeper level.

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Teaching Students to Use Self-Assessments

If you want your students to engage in reflection as a tool for self-assessment, you have to show them how powerful a learning tool it can be. Self-refection won't happen if students don't use their self-assessments; instead, they'll just end up in folders or recycling bins.

Students will see self-assessment as valuable if they can use it to improve something tangible to them, such as their performance on a test or quiz. For example, have students complete a self-assessment ahead of a test or quiz. You can design their self-assessment in a lot of ways. For example, you could design a series of open-ended questions related to the test content. Then, students can use a rubric to go through and evaluate how well they understand the content that will be on the test.


Rubrics are an effective tool for self-assessment if you design them properly. If you design a rubric for self-assessment, it needs to be written in clear, student-friendly language. For example, instead of just saying that an introduction is clear, explain what makes an introduction clear. For instance, you might suggest using an engaging lead to draw readers into an introduction.

Online Self-Tests

Another option is to create an online self-test, where instead of just seeing the actual questions missed on the self-assessment, students see the objectives that they haven't mastered. Students then can design a plan to help them master the objectives they are struggling with.

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Putting Self-Assessment Into Action

Whatever form of self-assessment you use to engage students in, be sure to modify and adjust it to the student you are working with. For example, younger students, or students with disabilities, may need more structure and support through the self-assessment process, whether through a rubric or student-led conference. Older students, or students with higher abilities, may be able to handle more ownership of the process. So as you put student self-assessment into action in your classroom, be sure to design it for the individual kids and show them how to use it as a tool to help them learn.

By Rachel Tustin
January 2017
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