The Gaussian Curve is a very useful tool in teacher and student assessment.

Let us begin by assessing our own success. What is the usual procedure? We explain a new topic, have students do exercises, perform consolidation and then give them a test. If the grades fall into the celebrated mathematician’s curve shape, say five top marks, five lowest ones, and fifteen good and satisfactory, it means that we have done a good job.

If ALL our pupils get very good marks, then both we and they have done an excellent job. Naturally it may also mean that the theme was not too difficult for them, and that we had enough time for explanations, revisions and consolidation. We are also familiar with another typical situation. Here is an easy topic, which we explain well, get good results at revision, then give a test… and everybody fails.

Instead of the expected very good marks, we are suddenly faced with C’s and F’s. What do we do next?

  • Analyze. Why did this happen? Did I do wrong? Did we have enough time? Was it a bad weather day or the last lesson in a hectic schedule?
  • Check the previous tests’ results. Was it a fluke or a regularity?
  • Look at the materials and all the exercises carefully. Which of them caused problems, which went well?
  • Work out a different set of exercises or a different approach to the theme.
  • Have a Trial Run. Take notes, see what helps.
  • Repeat the test. Make sure that the students are not discouraged by their earlier failure and understand why they have to do the test again.
  • Move on to the new topic.

Self-assessment works well with students of any age and level provided we teachers know why we want them to do it; we should also be very clear with the instructions and the criteria for evaluation.

Beginner level. Pronunciation. We may offer our pupils a few simple phonetic exercises, practice the desired sounds, and then suggest that they record themselves and compare the sounds produced by them to the ones made by a native speaker or an EL teacher. “Sink” or “think” is a classic for my students of any age and level. Quite often, they have no idea that they mispronounce this basic sound until they hear themselves do it in a recording.

Intermediate level. Words and meanings. We may take a few similar-looking or sounding words, and ask that the students explain their meanings in a given context. Any topic would provide a number of examples. “Break” or “brake”, “flour” or “flower”, “so” or “sew” et cetera. At this level, Grammar themes may also be introduced into self-assessment activities. We may give our students a few simple exercises and tests, and a list of criteria. Ten sentences in a multiple choice exercise are easily divisible into marks, with ten performed correctly resulting in A+, and one or two only bringing in F.

Upper-Intermediate level. Before the final school or university examinations in English, it is advisable to work through several demonstration tests in all the aspects. When my students had to prepare for IELTS or TOEFL exams, I suggested that they take a textbook and perform all the exercises in the thick manuals. We also went online to download Listening and Speaking exercises for practicing. Here is one very important observation. Once I explained the purposes of self-assessment and the criteria at any level, all my students exhibited a great enthusiasm and a desire to try this activity.

I have never had any cheating instances occur. I believe this is due to several factors.

One, my students were not afraid of making mistakes; they knew that nobody would laugh at them if they stumbled, and that there was always a chance to repeat a test later if needed.

Two, children love a challenge.

Three, they are often eager to try out any new exercise.

Four, the first person who tries out the new criteria is me, the teacher.

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