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Self-evaluation: a tool to help students achieve their full potential

Keeping students in the dark leads to confusion, frustration and stagnation…

The end of the first week back after Easter and we (my students and I) are all getting back into the swing of things.  The focus this week has been on going over the end of term self-evaluations and setting objectives for this term. This is something we’ve been doing for the past few years since I realised that some of my students weren’t progressing, not because they didn’t want to, but because they didn’t really know how to.  

Also, some of my students used to drive me crazy when it came to giving them their end of term marks.  Tears, tantrums, the silent treatment, I’ve experienced it all.

“Profe I don’t understand why I got a 7 when I got an 8 in all the tests!”

“Profe you can’t be serious, I got a 5 in all my tests and I’ve failed!?”  

Despite (in my case) tests accounting for only 50% of the final mark each term, they seemed to be the only marks that students remembered; understandable when so much emphasis has been placed on testing and exam results.  

We (educators) set out our criteria at the beginning of the school year, outlining our expectations and explaining how we will calculate their final mark and then quite often leave them to get on with the job…

Most students’ objectives are either “to get a better mark” or “to pass.”  The problem is that they don’t always know how to get there and the guidance they need isn’t always explicit enough (or it certainly wasn’t in my case.)  I wanted to help my students achieve their objectives but I also wanted them to see that their objective (“to get a better mark” or “to pass”) was a consequence of achieving other more specific and individual objectives depending on their personal situation.

My first challenge was to make them understand that the tests/exams we do are only a part of the learning process; that they are important, not because the results of these tests are what determine their marks, but because they provide evidence of learning and understanding and inform future teaching and learning.  Tests/exams influence students’ marks to a greater or lesser degree depending on teachers’ criteria, but they should not (in my humble opinion) determine them. Tests/exams help students and teachers alike identify strengths and weaknesses (individual and collective) and help in setting learning goals.  There are many more things, however, that we do inside and outside of class which, together with tests/exams, determine students’ final marks.

All this was crystal clear to me but how could I get my students to understand and remember this?

After posing this question to myself, I came up with a simple system of self-evaluation to address these issues…

At the beginning of term 1 students:

  • copy the criteria in their notebooks
  • stick a copy of their Learning Record in their notebook
  • set their objectives for term 1

Throughout terms 1, 2 &3:

  • On the Learning Record sheet, students copy their marks for tests/exams and continuous assessment exercises, activities and tasks including any merits or demerits they get.  If students copy down their marks as when they receive them, at the end of term there are no surprises as they have a record of their progress throughout the term.
  • Students revise objectives (copied into their notebook from the self-evaluation form)

Students are encouraged to regularly revise their objectives to check they are achieving them or at least working towards achieving them.  A general checklist is displayed in class which reminds students what they need to be doing throughout the term to make progress and reach their full potential.

End of term 2 & 3:

  • Students complete the self evaluation form to reflect on their progress and set objectives for the next term.  

I found that in the beginning students were having difficulties setting objectives.  They were mostly “get a better mark” “get a 10” or quite simply “pass.” I decided to change the self evaluation form in order to make setting their objectives easier.  Now we have a key and number system.

Key: 0 = never,   1 = hardly ever, 2 = sometimes,   3 = often, 4 = always

Students answer the self-evaluation questions and when they get to the objectives section they look at all their low scoring questions and convert them into objectives e.g

Did you complete exercises in class?            0      1       2      3       4

If they answered 1 (hardly ever) they know that this is something they need to improve. Using this system has really helped students set specific objectives which will help them progress.

I collect the self-evaluation forms and add any objectives they may have forgotten before they copy them into their notebooks.

In the final term students complete the self evaluation using google forms and at the beginning of the following school year we look at the class answers and reflect on common problem areas eg not handing homework!  (I am thinking that I may go paperless next year and do the self-evaluation in google forms every term.)

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The self-evaluation form is based on my criteria for my secondary school pupils in Spain. Everyone’s criteria and therefore self-evaluation questions will be different depending on their teaching context, syllabus, priorities, country etc.

Since using this simple system of self-reflection and self-evaluation,  I feel that my students are now much more aware of what they need to do to progress in order to achieve my objective for them “to reach their full potential” and their ultimate objective “to get a better mark” or “to pass”  (whether they do it or not is another matter!)  Also, there are fewer tears and tantrums and a lot more recognition of their own responsibility in the learning process come the end of term and report time 😉