Self-Assessment – Value or Vice?

Lesson completed, objectives identified, learning activity tackled, five minutes to go. As a trainee teacher for some reason I always seemed to have the desire instilled in me to conduct a self-assessment opportunity. I can never remember where it came from. Stefani (1994) is just one of the many voices who promote self assessment as a positive opportunity for children’s learning progress. Not only do this but I think there are further opportunities to improve the quality of self assessment. One example is in using iPads effectively in writing instruction (Harmon, 2012). Through the use of this technology, learners can become more critical of their learning by the instant (and sometimes unforgiving) feedback that is given.


However, I can’t help but be a little sceptical about this assessment tool. This doubt originates from my own classroom experience.  Whenever I ask for children to self-assess their learning, I find that as the teacher I have already decided through my own observations how their learning has gone. When their self-assessment does not match my observations, what does that do? What is my next step in light of that? I’m unsure. However, I also found that self-assessment provided an avenue where children could not only express their feelings on how they learnt but also how the learning activity worked for them, which helped me mold a more effective curriculum.


Of course, most times the students are very accurate with their own assessments. I think the largest deviation is found among more able children who make one mistake in the whole activity. They clearly have understood the objective, but one slip up (which let’s face it, is human) in their eyes earns them a thumbs down, a red light or 1 out of 5.


However, something jumps out to me in this thinking – whose assessment has more value? The teacher’s assessment or the learner’s assessment? Arguments could be made for both. The teacher is trained professionally to assess, evaluate and improve learning. In a medical environment, the patient cannot self-diagnose their condition. However, the learner knows intrinsically how they feel about their learning. This question has highlighted further to me that perhaps a balance between the two sources of assessment may be in order to provide a more accurate snapshot of the child’s learning. Of course, the next question is, What is the correct balance?


For me personally self-assessment will be something worth pursuing. However, self assessment is a skill that, like most other skills, needs to be taught and practised if it is to be worth it (Towler and Broadfoot, 1992). Once a class have been taught and practice self-assessment, it will be more likely to be a fruitful and accurate exercise.


So, what will you do? Do you use self-assessment in your teaching practice? Does it form a concrete evidence of children’s learning or is it used more as a motivational, reflective opportunity for the individual child? If you do use self-assessment, how do you implement it? Do you use it regularly throughout or at the end of the session? Or are you unconvinced and find self-assessment to be a wishy-washy attempt at creating a ‘child-centred’ education which does not have the same educational value as assessment by the teacher leading to a tangible target for future development.



Harmon, J. (2012) ‘Unlock Literacy with iPads.’ Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(8), pp.30-31.

Stefani, L. A. J. (1994) ‘Peer, self and tutor assessment: Relative reliabilities.’ Studies in Higher Education, 19(1), pp.69-75.

Towler, L. and Broadfoot, P. (1992) ‘Self-assessment in the Primary School.’ Educational Review, 44(2), pp.137-151.


photo credit: <a href=””>I_am_Allan</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;


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