Self-assessment: how I introduced it in the classroom and survived

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Some time ago I had a really nice chat with my almost-workmate Anna about self-assessment and challenges it may create. I talked about it from the perspective of my language school, she – from the viewpoint of a teacher in a public school. Our aims were the same, to introduce and implement self-assessment in our classes. Our environments, however, couldn’t have been more different.

Working in a private language school – let alone being a DoS with one – has encouraged me to try various approaches and methods in teaching. Dogme? – sure thing (you wouldn’t believe, though, the amount of lesson prep before a Dogme-style class). TBL? – great idea. Flipped classroom? – always! Station rotation? – awesome! I am absolutely aware, though, that educational system represented by public schools would never let me experiment, as in the system I would only be expected to deliver what’s in the curriculum.

I know. I left the system after two years in a primary school. Still keep in touch with “my” kids, though, bless their wicked little hearts.

Harris and McCann (Assessment Macmillan Heinemann, 1994) observe that students are often passive and expect teachers to tell them if they have done well or badly. This may be an issue when it comes to most Polish teenagers I know. That is why I decided to implement self-assessment throughout the whole IELTS preparatory course, so that both the students and I would be able to follow progress constantly. Moreover, the ability of self-assessing (valuable not only in language learning) should be a broad educational objective at secondary level – and the teens I teach think of studying abroad.

Self-assessment needs to be done at regular intervals, so that learners can be given an opportunity to think about what progress they are making and what their problems are. One of the benefits of teaching this particular group of students is that I taught them in the previous years, implementing peer review during tests and encouraging self-assessing activities in forms of questionnaires and regular individual interviews (some of them, especially the final one was conducted with students and their parents).

When it comes to self-assessment, I implemented it mainly during assessing speaking and writing skills, as those areas were crucial according to the needs’ analysis. What’s more, since reading and listening abilities may be practised during regular classes the students participate in their public schools, academic writing and IELTS-oriented speaking may not.

Apart from in-class speaking tasks, the students were asked to record themselves at home and listen to themselves, which is one of the most beneficial exercises before any speaking test – it may come as a surprise, but they actually did it, even sent me recordings with their self-assessment, highly underestimating their skills, which seems a traditional Polish approach to self-assessment. In-class we practised speaking in front of the classroom (incorporating peer review), but both the students and I believe self-assessing part is the most beneficial for further development.

Writing tasks proved to be the most difficult when it comes to implementing self-assessment, however, it also proved to be the most rewarding. In order to make the students reflect on their essays I highlighted the fragments requiring some change and did marking on a separate piece of paper. The students then were given their papers back, corrected the highlighted areas and tried to mark their own compositions – after this I handed out my markings and we compared the versions, which allowed for not only correction and development, but better understanding of the IELTS marking system.

What implementing self-assessment gave me, was something close to all-year long system of formative assessment. The great bonus is that those teens gain the great skill of being able to self-assess their own progress and this is a skill that will be useful in the future, when the memory of the IELTS preparation course is long gone.

I believe a step-by-step approach may help introducing self-assessment even within a framework of public education. Try peer review instead of marking tests, maybe a class contest instead of short tests, let them create their own quizzes, let them assess themselves. The teachers in public schools are expected to teach so that kids pass their tests – but maybe if you try a very slow process of implementing self-assessment, your students will appreciate something new that not only is fun, but also makes them learn even more.

Enjoy!

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