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Strategies to enhance student self-assessment

Reflection activities

Teachers often use proformae to encourage students to reflect on their learning experience. While these are convenient and provide a record of student thinking, they can become an activity devoid of any real thinking. Oral reflection, whether as a whole class or group within the class, might sometimes be more useful. Alternatively, teachers could devote some time to questioning students about what they have recorded on their proformae and asking them for explanations.

View Sample reflective questions and prompts (doc,30kb) for younger students and Designing reflective prompts (doc,33kb) for older students.

Student-led and three-way conferences

Student-led conferences in which students present their learning to their teacher and parents are an opportunity for students to formally reflect on the learning that has taken place over a period of time. This reflection occurs as students prepare for the conference, as well as during the conference itself when they show and explain to their parents what they have learned.

Usually the evidence they produce is in the form of a portfolio, which students have prepared according to provided guidelines.

The student, with teacher guidance, is the one who selects the work.

The teacher makes sure the students understand the purpose of the portfolio - that is, that:

  • it represents some but not all the work they have done in class over a period of time
  • it demonstrates both strengths and weaknesses
  • it will be used to help them reflect on what they have learned and what they still need to learn
  • it will help them to state clear goals for future learning, based on the areas where they need to make more progress.

The dvd Peer feedback and student self-assessment contains further material on student-led conferences, including sample conferences with students from Prep and Grade Six, as well as comment on the process from teachers.

Use of rubrics

Rubrics are a valuable tool for self-assessment. Because rubrics not only list the success criteria but also provide descriptions of levels of performance, students are able to use them to monitor and evaluate their progress during an assessment task or activity.

Teachers make certain that students have copies of the rubric prior to commencing the assessment activity and understand the terminology used in the rubric. If necessary, they provide students with models or exemplars to illustrate relevant aspects of the activity.

As they work to complete the activity, students monitor their work to ensure that it demonstrates the required skills, knowledge or understanding. They reflect on their progress and evaluate what they need to do if they wish to improve their performance.

Further information on rubrics is available in the Professional Learning module Success criteria and rubrics.

Use of graphic organisers

A graphic organiser organises facts, concepts, ideas or terms in a visual or diagrammatic way so that the relationship between the individual items is made clearer.

The value of graphic organisers in terms of student self-assessment lies in their ability to assist thinking and make it visible for both the student and the teacher. For example, empty spaces in graphic organisers reveal gaps in the student's knowledge or thinking. They indicate immediately what still needs to be discovered or learned. If graphic organisers are used in preparation for a written response, they can show where more information or further argument is necessary, and when students are asked to explain their use of the graphic organiser there is an opportunity for metacognitive development because they must explain their thought processes. ('Why did you put that piece of information here?')

If students are taught how to use graphic organisers, they can learn to select those which are compatible with their learning styles. Some learners, for instance, will gravitate towards organisers which use words to elucidate links, such as tables of various kinds; others will be happier with symbols such as arrows and boxes of various meaningful shapes.

Useful websites with examples of graphic organisers include the following:

Setting learning targets

The setting of learning targets, or goal-setting, is an intrinsic part of the iterative nature of self-assessment. Student self-assessment begins with setting learning targets, proceeds through the production of work that aims to achieve those targets, to the assessment of the work to see if it does in fact meet the targets and then, finally, to the setting of new targets or revising ones that were not achieved.

Diagrammatically, the process looks like this:


Ideally, students will increasingly assume responsibility for the setting of their learning targets and also for the monitoring or tracking of those targets. In practice, of course, students' ability to do this will vary, and teacher assistance will be more important to some students than others. The provision of suitable 'tracking' sheets is an obvious way for teachers to assist all students.

As with other aspects of instruction, the use of modelling and explicit teaching is of relevance here. Teachers commonly use the SMART acronym as a way of guiding students in the design of a learning target. In this acronym:

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Achievable or Attainable
R  = Relevant
T  = Time-bound

The SMART method of setting learning targets:


The learning target must be specific rather than general: 'I will include a topic sentence in each paragraph' rather than 'I will improve my paragraphing.'


It must be possible to know whether the learning target has been accomplished, so there needs to be some way of measuring this. 'I will learn my 7 times table', for instance, could be measured by 'Being able to recite to my teacher/parent/peer the table X times without making mistakes.'


The achievement of the learning target must be something the student is capable of attaining. Where the prospect of achievement seems daunting, the learning target can be broken down into a series of steps so that the student has the prospect of experiencing success. For example, instead of a learning target that states 'I will use correct spelling', it is better to concentrate on the use of individual spelling strategies so that, over time, the student builds up a repertoire of strategies designed to achieve the aim of improving his or her ability to spell correctly.

The setting of unachievable learning targets will inevitably lead to lack of motivation and low self-esteem.


The learning target needs to be significant and relevant to the student's present learning. If students are left to set learning targets without any guidance, at least initially there is a danger that such targets will be less relevant than if they are set in the context of understanding 'What I know or can do now/ what I still need to know or be able to do/ how I can go about making that improvement'.


Students should specify when they aim to achieve the target. Time-bound learning targets are easier to evaluate and track than those which have no particular time period attached to their achievement.

Time management

Students' ability to manage and organise their own time in order to complete set tasks is a crucial aspect of self-assessment. Schools recognise this when they institute a variety of structures to support students developing independence in this area; the student diary is one example.

In the case of extended projects, middle-year students can be assisted to manage their time if teachers 'chunk' the work into discrete sub-tasks. For instance, students who are researching information prior to making a class or group presentation can be advised that the task comprises the following sub-tasks, each of which will have a certain period of time allotted to it.

  • Decide on research topic
  • Draw up list of possible resources
  • Assign group roles
  • Conduct research
  • Develop presentation
  • Rehearse presentation
  • Make presentation

This information can be supported visually by a Gantt chart (doc,37kb) which can be displayed in the classroom and used by both teacher and students to monitor progress.

For older students who have experience of Gantt charts, the production of such a chart and its submission to the teacher for feedback could be made a mandatory first step when they are beginning an extended task.