Beyond Grades: The Importance of Self-Assessment in Project-Based Learning
In the SmartLab, we say, “Learning is different here.” This shift in learning is driven greatly by the active roles of students in the learning process. In student-led project-based learning, it’s critical to look at assessment and ask:
- How will self-assessment impact my students’ achievement?
- What is the role of my students in assessment?
- How do I implement self-assessment effectively, considering time constraints and the need for intentional scaffolding?
In this article, we’ll dig into the importance of self-assessment in project-based learning, and strategies you can use to elevate learners’ role in assessment.
Self-Assessment and Student Achievement
Self-assessment, also referred to as self-monitoring, self-judgment and reflection, and self-reported grades, is an assessment practice through which learners evaluate their own work or understanding against established standards or criteria.
The investment of time and effort to implement self-assessment has significant benefits for students and teachers. According to John Hattie’s meta-analyses of thousands of educational studies, self-assessment has the potential to considerably accelerate student achievement (Corwin Visible Learning Plus (2023a-c)).
We also see benefits when we engage students in the assessment process through peer assessment. Peer assessment enhances students’ understanding of the success criteria and their ability to apply that objective analysis to their own work, while also reducing the time and effort required by their teachers to assess and provide feedback to all students (Chappuis, 2009).
The Role of Students in Assessment
In many of our own experiences, the extent of our involvement in assessment may have been limited to evaluating our work with a rubric and comparing it to our teacher’s evaluation. Though self-judgment and accuracy are important, student self-assessment doesn’t stop there.
Both research and assessment experts agree that it is critical for students to assess their current understanding AND know how to improve (Broadfoot et al, 1999; Black & Wiliam, 1989; Sadler, 1989). Sadler states the importance for students to clearly understand the learning and performance goals, accurately assess their current progress, and have strategies or methods for improving (1989). These three conditions are key to student success.
Establishing a shared understanding of the learning goals and where students are in their progress toward those goals empowers students to make decisions about what they learn and how they learn it. This active role shifts students into the role of decision makers when it comes to their own learning.
Implementing Self-Assessment in Project-Based Learning
The use of self-assessment in the SmartLab requires intentional strategies to scaffold the self-assessment process for students and accommodate your time constraints.
Below you’ll find a variety of strategies and resources that you can use to help your students:
- Write SMART goals to establish success criteria for their projects and learning outcomes
- Use rubrics to evaluate current understanding and drive growth
- Identify and utilize strategies and resources to progress towards their goals
Ask your learners to write SMART goals to establish success criteria for their projects and learning outcomes.
Strategies to support learners:
|Provide a sentence frame for those new to goal setting.
|We will use (name of technology) to (detailed description) by (due date). We are creating this because (personal interest or purpose).
|Use guiding questions to emphasize each element of a SMART goal.
|Specific – What will you create?
Measurable – How will you know when you’re successful?
Attainable – Can you achieve it?
Relevant – Why is it important?
Time-Based – When will you be done?
|Practice evaluating and revising goals with examples and non-examples.
|Example (Middle School): We will use Arckit to build a model of a tiny house for people impacted by the wildfires in Hawaii. It will need to fit a family of four and be okay in a rainy, humid, and windy climate. We will finish our project by next Wednesday. This is important to us because we learned about wildfires in our history class and want to help.
Non-example (Elementary): We are going to use Goobi to build a famous tower. We decided to do this because we like it!
Use rubrics to evaluate current understanding and drive growth.
Strategies to support learners:
- Introduce the rubrics at the beginning of the project or performance task to review unfamiliar vocabulary and create a shared understanding of the success criteria.
- Implement routines for reflection that support frequent evaluation and monitoring, like daily journaling and focused goal setting.
- Practice evaluating anonymous work with a rubric and providing specific, actionable feedback. Use an activity or example, like Austin’s Butterfly, to emphasize the characteristics of effective feedback, especially during peer assessment.
Get started with SmartLab’s rubrics for project SMART goals, journal, collaboration, presentation, and management. Use the rubric templates to create your own rubrics with learners.
Prompt learners to identify and utilize strategies and resources to progress towards their goals.
Strategies to support learners:
- Develop an anchor chart with students and list available resources and known strategies. Continue to add to the anchor chart and direct students back to the list.
- Use a think aloud to model the selection of appropriate resources and/or strategies after self-assessment and goal setting has occurred.
- Leverage learners as resources for each other through peer assessment.
Additional strategies for peer assessment:
- Use a feedback protocol to provide a structure for peer feedback.
- Promote student choice by having learners specify 1-2 elements or criteria of success to focus on with their assessment and feedback.
- Provide peer assessors with rubrics that they can use to identify where their partner is now, where they might go next, and a strategy or resource they might use to get there. This can be done with highlighting or coding in different colors and using post-it notes for suggestions.
Where Are You Now?
These self-assessment strategies serve as practical tools to help you direct your attention and enable your learners to take charge of their learning. As we stand at the intersection of pedagogy and practice, it’s time for self–assessment to begin – with you!
Reflect on how well your SmartLab Learners:
- Write SMART goals to establish success criteria for their projects and learning outcomes?
- Use rubrics to evaluate current understanding and drive growth?
- Identify and utilize strategies and resources to progress towards their goals?
For each of these ↑, score yourself on the rubric ↓:
|My learners aren’t doing this yet.
|My learners do this on a few projects a year and/or struggle to do it effectively.
|My learners do this effectively on more than half of the projects throughout the year.
|My learners do this effectively and consistently on all projects throughout the year.
Set a goal and identify a strategy. Choose an area that you want to focus on and one or more of the suggested strategies you want to use to get started.
The use of self-assessment in project-based learning is more than a pedagogical choice; it is a commitment to fostering self-efficacy, student ownership, and continuous improvement. As we embark on this journey, let us carry forward the belief that learning is not confined to the conventional—it is an evolving, student-driven process that propels us into a future where assessment is a collaborative venture between educators and learners alike.
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education (5)1, 7-74.
Broadfoot, P., Daugherty, R., Gardner, J., Gipps, C., Harlen, W., James, M., & Stobart, G. (1999). Assessment for Learning: beyond the black box (pp. 1-12). University of Cambridge School of Education. https://doi.org/10.13140/2.1.2840.1444
Chappuis, J. (2009). Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning. Pearson.
Corwin Visible Learning Plus. (2023a). Self-judgment and reflection. Corwin Visible Learning Metax. Retrieved from https://www.visiblelearningmetax.com/influences/view/self-judgement_and_reflection
Corwin Visible Learning Plus. (2023b). Self-reported grades. Corwin Visible Learning Metax. Retrieved from https://www.visiblelearningmetax.com/influences/view/self-reported_grades
Corwin Visible Learning Plus. (2023c). Self monitoring. Corwin Visible Learning Metax. Retrieved from https://www.visiblelearningmetax.com/influences/view/self_monitoring
Sadler, D.R . (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18, 119-144.
Wiliam, D. (2018). Embedded Formative Assessment. Solution Tree.