Since we just finished report cards and parent-teacher-student conferences, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-assessment. I have tried this often in the past, but met with little success. Part of this has been the age of the children that I teach. Six year olds in general think they can do anything, and the self-assessments that they have done for me have, with the odd exception, reflected this. Also, in retrospect, I realize that I created too many different self-assessments, so that the children never felt comfortable with one before I had moved on to another.
Primary self-assessments usually ask students to reflect on their strengths and then colour in, for each area, one of three pre-made faces: one with the mouth turned up, one with the mouth turned down and the other one that I never know what to call (the mouth isn’t turned up or down, it’s just straight across). I have prepared self-assessments in lots of curriculum areas, but have always been discouraged by the fact that almost every child had a paper full of coloured happy faces.
Despite my lack of success, I have really wanted to make this work. This past fall, borrowing heavily from the work of Dawn Kesslering, I designed a new self-assessment tool that included components from all the strands of our language arts curriculum and our math curriculum as well as some personal and social indicators. When we used the tool together last fall, it took us about forty minutes to complete, and I had to explain for each of the thirty-one areas what each of the faces would mean in that context. When we had our conferences, I asked the children to share two things from the tool that they were good at and one thing that they wanted to improve. The parents and I smiled at each other over their heads as they explained how good they were at subtraction (we hadn’t done any yet and none of them understood what it was) or how well they left spaces between their words when they wrote (very few of them did).
We redid the same self-assessments last week just before our conferences, and I was amazed at the honest and accurate reflection they were able to do. Only one or two students still felt they could “do it all”. What really surprised me, though, was the way they were able to pick out areas that really were strengths for them, and zero in on areas that they wanted to improve during the conference with their parents. Lesson learned. I can’t wait to see how they do in June.
Then there is the intriguing fact that out of thirty-one items, the twins, in separate interviews, picked out exactly the same ones to show their mother. . .