How Do We Teach Kids to Assess Themselves?

A MiddleWeb Blog


As educators, one of our primary goals should be to help our students to become autonomous, independent learners.

We want kiddos who are mindful of their learning abilities and can identify strategies for improving them.

But for a teacher, it’s quite a challenge to provide students with practice in assessing the knowledge and skills they currently possess in order to determine how/what they have yet to learn.

One key strategy for doing so is for each of us to regularly engage learners in self-assessment. Simply put, self-assessment means helping students to become skillful at doing what teachers do: evaluate their work/performance against clearly established criteria.

Quick vs. Quality Self-Assessment

Most teachers employ simple, self-assessment strategies to some degree with their students. This could include the asking students to self report their own understanding of a concept using their thumbs, an exit ticket, colored cards or a simple three-point finger scale.

True self-assessment, however, entails…

  • Clearly establishing and communicating the desired level of performance, or success criteria, to students (a rubric, a checklist or something similar created by the teacher and – when appropriate – including input and suggestions from students).
  • Providing students with modeling and practice in using the success criteria to evaluate a variety of student work samples.
  • Asking students to use the success criteria, rubric, etc. to evaluate and reflect upon their own work/performance.
  • Working with students to identify strategies and approaches likely to strengthen their understanding, skills, and/or performance in the future (McMillan & Hearn, 2008).

Cutting Down Confusion with Rubrics

All of us have likely experienced the frustration that occurs when we want to do well but are unclear about what we are trying to accomplish and/or how we will be evaluated.

We want to cry out… “Just tell me what is that you want from me!” Rubrics can a valuable tool for cutting through these frustrating moments by clearly identifying and describing what we want students to accomplish.

Click to enlarge.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: rubrics should always be written in student friendly language and include (a) key categories or elements of the assignment, (b) descriptions of various levels, or ratings of performance, and (c) a clear indication of what the desired level of performance or success criteria is.

I find it useful to review key components of the rubric with students and/or invite them do so with a classmate. Then I always allow a bit of time to answer any questions that they might have about what successful completion of the task will entail.

A well-developed rubric should be used on the front end of an assignment/assessment and throughout its completion. Students should be invited to pause periodically and refer back to the rubric categories and descriptions. Doing so allows them to reflect on the quality of their work, gauge their progress, and helps ensure that they are focusing their energy on the desired knowledge, understanding, and/or skills required by the task.

A number of tech tools exist to help teachers design rubrics.

  • Rubric Maker, RubiStar, and Quick Rubric are all simple, web-based tools for creating, customizing, saving, and sharing rubrics. Each walks teachers step-by-step through the creation process. Quick Rubric is unique in that it also provides information/suggestions on how teachers can better utilize rubrics in the classroom.
  • Orange Slice Teacher Rubric is an easy-to-use Google Doc add-on that lets you quickly create your own rubrics or use one you’ve already developed.
  • Essay Tagger allows teachers to build rubrics aligned to Common Core Standards and includes simple, clear steps for each part of the design process.

The Power of Portfolios

Portfolios are one of my favorite ways for students to document learner growth and to collect evidence of many different kinds of learning and skill development.

Students essentially examine the learning goals that we have established in class and then work throughout the semesters to collect, compile, and present various work samples related to those goals. As a result, my students and I get a pretty clear picture of their growth and development over time.

This evidence-building process encourages my students to take ownership of learning (Suskie, 2018). It often serves as a learning experience for them…and for me as we reflect on their growth thus far, what still needs to be mastered, and how I can better support them in the learning process.

While students can always assemble folders or binders to display their work, there are some fantastic web tools for creating student portfolios. This article at the Getting Smarter blog highlights 10 ideas/apps to consider.

One of them – Three Ring – has been my preferred tool for students to upload their work samples and organize/categorize them with tags but seems to be having connection problems. You might check back later. It has desirable features: portfolios can be shared easily with others and are even searchable. Once students have created an account, they can access and update it from just about any device.

For two bucks, students and teachers can use Easy Portfolio, an iOS app that makes it easy to capture, share, and showcase students’ work. It allows students to design portfolios that include digital documents, photos, videos, audio files, weblinks, notes, and other learning artifacts. Portfolios can then be shared via email or exported to a Dropbox or Google Drive account.

Data Notebooks to Document and Drive Learning

Data notebooks (sometimes referred to as learning logs), like portfolios, offer a powerful way for students to take ownership of their learning. Both serve as a running record of student performance and can be used by the students to track/monitor progress. They can also be utilized by students and teachers to deepen conversations about goal setting during student-teacher and parent-teacher conferences.

Data notebooks, in particular, can be kept by students to help document their performance over time. Students set individual goals, and then map/track their performance over several months to determine their progress and to identify where they have yet to improve.

The hope is to for students to take pride in – and be knowledgeable about – their performance. Data notebooks can be kept on paper, or on something like Google Sheets by following these simple steps described by Erin Diggins.

Another interesting approach might be to explore the use of something like STICKK where students set a goal and then designate either themselves or a teacher as a ‘referee.’ The idea is to choose someone to monitor their efforts and help them stay on track.

Making Learning ‘Visible’ Through Graphic Organizers and Concept Maps

Concept maps and graphic organizers encourage students to create graphical representations of what is being learned and how it connects to other concepts. Students can work with the guidance of a teacher, with classmates, or independently to diagram, map, chart, and visually demonstrate what is being taught.

When it comes to self-assessment, concept maps and graphic organizers help teachers and students to identify what concepts are well understood, and where the holes (incomplete understanding) are. These ‘holes’ can reveal misconceptions, show gaps in the student’s knowledge or thinking, and/or help students and teachers identify what has yet to be learned.

When students are asked to explain their graphic organizers or concept maps, they engage in metacognition as they work to describe their own thought processes (i.e., why they placed a concept in a certain location and how it relates to other ideas).

Tech Tools to Help Organize and Synthesize Multiple Ideas

Coggle provides students with a simple, clean way to map relationships between terms by combining text, images, hyperlinks, and nodes, or lines that connect each term.

Students can organize important concepts into formats as diverse as webstimelinesclassification charts, and flowcharts. Each ‘Coggle’ or concept map that a student creates is auto-saved and can be easily shared with the teacher and other classmates. It also integrates well with Google Drive. To get started, watch this brief tutorial. is one of the simplest web-based tools to use if all you want to do is stick with text and arrange terms/concepts in a hierarchical form.

Lucidchart allows students to create concept maps from scratch or use a simple drag-and-drop system to customize a variety of existing templates by adding shapes, images, and links. It is also possible for multiple learners to collaborate in real time on the same concept map.

Sketchboard also allows for real-time collaboration but feels more like you’re working on paper. Students can add text, images, icons, and even sketch out your images on the map.

Students Who Know What they Know

All around the country, teachers are hard at work trying to assess their students, gather data, and use the information they have collected to improve learning. Engaging students in self-assessment is one effective way to empower students by involving them in the process.

Today’s students need a variety of opportunities to examine their work, reflect upon and evaluate their work, and make decisions on how to move forward as learners. Whether it’s concept mapping, data notebooks, portfolios or some other self-assessment approach, we must take every opportunity to help our students become knowledgeable, capable, and independent learners.


McMillan, J. H., & Hearn, J. (2008). Student self-assessment: The key to stronger student motivation and higher achievementEducational Horizons87(1), 40-49.

Suskie, L. (2018). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. John Wiley & Sons.

Curtis Chandler

Dr. Curtis Chandler (@CurtisChandler6) is an education professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg. Curtis has been a Kansas Teacher of the Year and a KS regional instructional tech coach. “I am a middle school teacher through and through,” he says. He enjoys spending time with his wife and his favorite students – his four sons. His two blogs for MiddleWeb include Class Apps (insightful articles about blending tech and teaching strategies) here, and New Teacher Tips, a blog dedicated to preservice and beginning teachers, here.

2 Responses

  1. Kristen says:

    This is so important. Too many kids and adults alike measure success by a single number or a single grade. True success, however, is multifaceted, well-rounded, and comprehensive, much like this article! Thank you for the ideas and the insight.

  2. Mary Langer Thompson says:

    Some wonderful ideas here. Rubrics, especially, do help with assessing writing. However, as a full-time writer in retirement, I find that one’s own eye misses things that my critique group catches time and again. Therefore, for writing, I think the student needs peer editing plus teacher input regularly.

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