Within educational contexts, self-assessment can be broadly defined as the process whereby a learner describes, evaluates, and/or provides feedback on his or her own work or learning efforts and processes. While some advocate for narrower definitions, adopting a broad stance seems appropriate when considering diverse educational contexts (i.e. early childhood education to higher education) and subject areas.
The ability to self-assess one’s own work products and process is not only a valuable life skill, but also a key aspect of self-regulated learning. Self-assessment has been found to improve students’ self-efficacy in relation to tasks, foster ownership of learning, and improve their learning and performance. Current interest in self-assessment is due, in part, to its connections with self-regulated learning and Assessment for Learning. Self-assessment is clearly implied within all phases of popular models of self-regulation. It has also been identified as a key formative strategy within the global Assessment for Learning movement; however, as just one of many endorsed strategies, it is very possible to enact formative assessment without drawing on student self-assessment.
While there are many diverse strategies which can be categorised under the broad term self-assessment, they are not equally valuable in relation to student self-regulation and metacognition. While some practices such as judgement of learning, self-marking, self-grading, and self-testing may be a good starting point for young or novice learners and may help develop accuracy and realism within self-assessments, clearly these work best with simple, concrete tasks. There are also myriad strategies and templates designed to support students to self-assess. Again, they have varying levels of value; clearly ones which support students to make and defend complex judgements will be more valuable to learning and self-regulation than those which ask students to make simple, unjustified judgement about competence. Self-assessment scripts and rubric-guided self-assessment tasks are most compatible with complex tasks and learning objectives and help students engage most deeply in the criteria and processes which underpin quality work. Ideally, self-assessment is best used during the learning process so that students can immediately use the feedback they have generated to improve their learning processes and products.
While self-assessment can be used to improve student learning and self-regulation, when implementing self-assessment, there are factors which can undermine its effectiveness. Education professionals must be aware of and mitigate these during implementation to maximise its positive effects. Without a clear understanding of why they are self-assessing, students may resist or devalue it, seeing assessment as the role of the teacher. Teachers must make complex learning objectives transparent in ways which allow students to accurately self-assess their work. Psychological safety is paramount, as without trust in teachers and peers, students are unlikely to be willing to admit to their own mistakes. Likewise, a supportive environment is vital to helping students move beyond their egos. Students also require substantial support to self-assess in accurate and valid ways, with feedback being essential, whether in the form of worked examples, answer sheets, or feedback from teachers or peers. Finally, self-assessment is unlikely to positively impact on learning unless teachers create the time and space for students to act upon the feedback they generate via self-assessment.
While self-assessment is an educationally valuable process, it is complex to implement effectively within compulsory and tertiary learning environments. Educators must carefully consider which techniques are most appropriate to use within their context, making sure they are fit-for-purpose and align well with the task demands and student capabilities. Implementation must also be carefully monitored to make sure that student psychological safety is maintained and that feedback is available which can help students monitor their self-assessment accuracy and act upon the results in ways which improve their learning and enhance their motivation.