Publish at March 15 2023 Updated March 15 2023

Self-evaluation, a positive reflective exercise

To question one's own skills and analyze those of others

Are we the best judge of our abilities? Some behavioral scientists will tell us no. In their argument, they will cite the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is the inability to properly assess one's skills in different subjects. They could then bring out a panoply of messages, among others, on social networks to support their claims. Nevertheless, not everyone agrees with this conclusion. Other studies show that, aside from a minority, most people do not overestimate their knowledge in a subject.

This debate may seem trivial, but it is not. According to the Dunning-Kruger theory, it would be impossible to implement self or peer assessments that would be effective. Everyone would give themselves fantastic ratings. Yet research against this phenomenon asserts that, on the contrary, the majority of people are capable of such an exercise.

A sensible and effective method

The issue of self-assessment is coming back to the forefront with a metacognitive approach to pedagogy. Indeed, this exercise is almost seen by some as a superpower. Because it's not only a way to give yourself a grade, but more importantly, to reflect on what was previously accomplished. Proponents of this approach to assessment will cite, among other things, the following benefits:

  • Autonomous development of learning
  • Increased awareness and critical thinking
  • Deeper learning
  • More regular and effective use of self-regulation

This latter concept is even the basis for teaching, namely that self-regulation is the diagnosis made after self-assessment. The learner can then evaluate his or her progress, actions and on what steps to take to improve. When this assessment is also coupled with a peer assessment, it is referred to as a virtuous circle. That is, the student reflects on the process of his or her work, to understand what is expected and to be able to judge the achievements of others through this prism. Subsequently, he himself will receive feedback from his peers that will refine his self-assessment skills.

This assessment technique may not be able to be used alone, but incorporating it into a course has generally positive consequences. Some teachers who have adopted it will claim that it changes the dynamics in a good way. Quickly the learners have to gain autonomy and develop a different relationship with the teacher who, during this exercise, is no longer the evaluator but a manager, making sure that everyone responds well to the instructions. This strange climate quickly becomes motivating for most students.

This study with a group of Chinese students noted that peer assessment in a foreign language oral production context had positive effects. After receiving peer reviews, the majority improved their performance in a second oral. However, one must keep in mind, as the authors do, that this was only a group of about 30 students who, moreover, were already among the best in China. So it's hard to generalize from this simple research.

What student wouldn't want to assign a grade to themselves? Surprisingly, many more than we think. That's part of the barriers to its adoption, by the way. Indeed, many believe that they don't have the skills to do it, that it's up to the teachers, or have the fear of getting it wrong. Some will also not dare to put a good grade on themselves for fear of being criticized or appearing boastful.

Steps to successful adoption

Hence the importance of introducing the exercise well to one's class. First, it is important to explain what it is about by offering examples of good and bad assessments (self and peer). It seems important to offer a model of what is expected by recreating the assessment of a mock assignment to further clarify the approach. It is best to do this in the context of small formative assignments first so that the habit is formed. Afterwards, the teacher can give feedback on what was done.

As for self-assessment tools, they are free. Of course, traditional rubrics are a must, but there's nothing to stop you from producing them verbally or through symbols affixed to an assignment. For example, an emoji representing the level of understanding according to the student or a color of a traffic light to affirm if he thinks he has understood or not a notion. All of this can be combined in a metacognition context where the tasks require learners to reflect on their learning process. Self- and peer-assessments become reflective tools in the toolkit for understanding and noting one's progress over the course of the school year or term.

So it seems possible, regardless of the level of instruction, to add a layer of self- or peer-assessment. What's more, faculty themselves could benefit from this type of technique. Moreover, in France, the iTeachApp project proposes just such an approach in the use of learning management systems. A way for teachers to analyze, according to them, their level of comfort with this technology and get support according to their answers.

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