Good writing can be said to be essentially about self-assessment. An author’s work is the end result of many rounds of revisions based on self-assessment of earlier drafts.
A review of the literature on self-assessment in writing recently published in the Journal of Research in Reading yields 12 strategies for the use of self-assessment with learners from middle school through adulthood. The study is a synthesis rather than a meta-analysis of previous research on this topic.
Researcher Kristen Nielsen says the process of writing and revising is complex and has been described as a conversation with the writer’s self, she writes.
“In this sense, writing requires continual meta-cognition, as writers must learn to assess and evaluate their own idea and expression objectively, as well as their writing process, in order to make continual improvements to writing tasks and further develop as a writer.”
Among the advantages of self-assessment is that it is formative rather than summative and it supports the transfer of knowledge which is key to improving writing. Self-assessment encourages “the sort of autonomous mastery of writing strategies needed to overcome the limitations of working memory…,” according to the researcher.
Writers must develop their own voice and their own writing process, an evolution that is nurtured by the reflective exercise of self-assessment. Finally, self assessment promotes dialogue between teachers and students and helps students better understand the feedback they receive from their teacher.
Most of the studies included in the author’s review were descriptive rather than empirical studies, as is typical of much of the research on writing, Nielsen writes.
Below are 12 strategies for self-assessment that are supported in her review of the literature:
- Give students direct, explicit and step-by-step training before they carry out self-assessment exercises and include practice time.
- Help students develop a clear understanding of the aspects of writing they are self-assessing such as tone, attention to purpose, etc. In order for students to evaluate their writing for each of the different aspects, they need to have a clear understanding of the concepts.
- Use writing models to demonstrate specific writing skills and to give students the opportunity to practice assessment. Writing models can be used independently of self-assessment to reinforce learning of concepts. When they are used as practice for self-assessment, teachers can correct student miscomprehension and modify the exercise as needed.
- Invite students to participate in developing the criteria for self-assessment exercises. This process helps develop a shared understanding of good writing in the classroom.
- Increase student motivation in self-assessment by making the self-assessment part of the grade. Positive verbal prompts and guidance also support student motivation. Motivating students is a challenge, but for self-assessment to be meaningful students must be committed to the task.
- Use self-assessment for formative rather than summative evaluation and not to determine a final grade on an assignment.
- Provide sufficient independent time and space in class to complete self-assessment exercises. Self-assessment works best in your classroom where you can reinforce a sense of quiet, focused time that students may not have outside the classroom. You can also provide support and corrective feedback.
- Engage students in dialogue during self-assessment to provide feedback, answer questions and provide clarification. Some students will need more scaffolding and guidance than others. One of the great benefits of self-assessment is the opportunity to work one-on-one with students.
- Self-assessment should include tasks that address specific components of writing as well as prompts that ask for a global response to their writing. Students should work to improve specific aspects of their writing as well as the overall content.
- Nurture students’ sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem through positive feedback, reinforcement and modelling. Student writers tend to think writers are born not made. They need a sense of self-efficacy to persevere in writing.
- Give students the opportunity to revise their work after self-assessment so that they can transfer what they’ve learned to the task of writing.
- Regularly evaluate your teaching methods. How are students responding? Conduct student surveys to find out what’s working well.
“Self-assessment methods in writing instruction: a conceptual framework, successful practices and essential strategies,” by Kristen Nielsen, Journal of Research in Reading, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp. 1–117.