Teacher and student self-assessment as a good educational tool

Nina MK. Ph.D.
Self-assessment is probably an activity every thinking individual engages in at times or even at regular intervals. I believe if we teach our students how to gauge their own abilities, we may give them a useful instrument which they will continue to use throughout their life. Prior to suggesting that children evaluate their own, let alone their peers’ work however I would always try to find a moment to conduct a quick self-assessment session of my own advantages and disadvantages. “Teacher, teach thyself” has always been my mantra. I share it with my colleagues and with senior classes if needed. With younger children, I always praise them for anything that they manage to do correctly, and encourage them to try again if they failed. Surprisingly, children often do not realize that they can cope with any difficult topic until their own abilities are explained to them. Let us look at the issue at hand in more detail.

• Teacher Self-Assessment. You may wish to make a flow chart or a diagram and list your positive and negative sides, your own strengths and weaknesses. For instance I always greet my audience with the same phrase, “I am happy to see you!” There may be a brief pause, but everybody catches up fast and produces the same greeting back to me. It is not enough to simply say it, one has to train oneself, to set the mood and really feel it. If you are sincere, the sentiment you formulate will translate itself into the audience.

• “She knew plenty of teachers who saw children as an annoying by-product of the profession rather than its raison d’etre”(“Case Histories”, a novel by Kate Atkinson). This phrase made me laugh out loud because I know plenty of such teachers. “I wish they all sat still, raised their hands when I ask a question. And only spoke when I allow them to!” complained a first-form teacher. Imagine a group of six-year-olds sitting still for forty minutes. As the old joke goes, if they can do it, there’s something wrong with them; if you can imagine that, something is wrong with you! Check your own attitude. If you see children as a continuous annoyance, maybe teaching is not for you. If you understand that they can be maddening yet you hope to be able to teach them something useful, you definitely will.

• Record yourself and listen carefully to the way you speak. Are you too loud, too soft? Are your sounds distinct, is your pronunciation good? You don’t have to do it annually by the way, once or twice is usually enough. We are professionals; we know how to correct mistakes. We can do articulation exercises to make our speech more distinct and easily heard. It is not necessary to shout if you learn to articulate well and breathe deeply when speaking. If your voice is naturally very loud, maybe you should take it down a notch, especially with younger children.

• Reflect on any test’s results. Did most of the class manage to do everything correctly, with excellent and good marks? Great! Did they all fail? Then look at your own ways of presenting the material, check their schedule to see which subjects they have before your lesson. It may be that you did not explain the theme in detail; it may also be that they had a strenuous PE class or a text in geometry right before they came to your English lesson. In other words, do not be in a hurry to assign the blame before you learn all the circumstances.

• Student self-assessment is a good instrument provided they understand what they are supposed to do. The younger your pupils are the more guidance they may need. “See, you have done the Passive Voice correctly, not a single mistake! Your Present Continuous Tense needs the same kind of work, let us try again”, I told a fifth-grader who was labeled “the class hooligan” since his first year of school. He stared dumbfounded at the test section which had a big fat 5 (A) at the end, obviously written in my own red pen. I suspect it was his very first good mark ever. Then he whispered, “Is this what you have been trying to get from me, what you have been drilling into us? Like, if I pay attention and grasp that dratted continuous, I may also get 5 for that?” I assured him it looked like a distinct possibility to me. Since that day he worked really hard and eventually became one of my best students; his grades in all the other subjects improved drastically too.

• With teenagers, charts and diagrams are usually a big hit. Be sure to suggest several variants, listing for example Areas of Concern, Areas of Excellence and Areas of Hope. Show interest and accept their suggestions. Share your own chart, or cite examples from your own experience with other (former) classes including adults if you ever taught any. “Many teachers also find this topic difficult” works like magic.

• Peer assessment may be useful if you know your class well and are sure it will not turn into a judgment or a ridicule session. I am rather against it for various reasons. It means double the amount of work for us because we have to be sure that the “corrections” did not compound the mistakes. There are also inherent dangers in the approach. A teacher I know decided to use the following exercise as a means to activate the vocabulary with a class of teenagers: she placed a chair in the middle of the classroom and asked each student to come out in turn. They were told to sit on a chair while every classmate was supposed to say a kind word to them using the new lexis. A few adolescents took that as an opportunity to sneer and jeer at their unpopular peers, to her horror gleefully calling it “the pillory chair”. The lesson quickly disintegrated into chaos. One student had sense enough to rush out for help. The teacher later resigned.

• Self-assessment is a good tool to use for self and students. As any tool, it requires patience and caution.

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