What are some good ways to help students self-assess the quality of their own work?

Involving your students in assessing the quality of their work can give them a clearer sense of the learning outcomes toward which they are working and can motivate them to learn. If your students are to assess the quality of their work, they must be able to answer three questions:

  1. What am I supposed to learn?
  2. Where am I now compared to what I am supposed to learn or be able to do?
  3. What do I need to do to move from what I know or can do now to what I need to know and be able to do?

Factual Information

To know what they are supposed to learn, students must have a clear sense of the learning outcomes you want them to learn. There are several ways to provide students with more information about what you expect them to learn. One way is to reword the desired learning outcome into language your students will understand. For example, you might reword this learning outcome, "students will be able to summarize text at an appropriate reading level" to this statement "you will be able to use the information from your reading to draw conclusions" to make it more understandable to your students. Another way is to share examples of prior student performances (without identifying the student who completed the performance) with your students and work with them to identify the qualities of quality performances. Another way is to work with your students to develop a rubric that outlines the attributes of a quality performance and then working with the students to write those attributes in language the students comprehend.

To help students assess their own work, model for them how to compare their work to the attributes of quality work you have worked with them to identify.

To help students move from their current level of knowledge or performance to where you want them to be, it is important to consider the age of the students with whom you work and their abilities to take control of their learning. For younger students, you might share with them your plan for helping them continue to learn until they reach the learning outcomes. In addition to the instruction you have planned for them, you may be able to involve older students in developing strategies that will help them attain the desired learning outcomes.

Classroom Activities

  • Take one of the learning outcomes you want your students to learn and rewrite that outcome in language your students can understand. In their book, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning, Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis and Chappuis recommend the following four step process:
    1. Define the main word in the outcome;
    2. Rewrite the definition as an "I can" or "I am learning to" statement that your students can understand;
    3. Try out your proposed outcome on students or a colleague and refine it as needed;
    4. Have your students try this process for subsequent learning goals.
  • Show your students samples of the different levels of performance on an assignment and discuss the attributes that make one performance better than another.
  • Work with your students to create a rubric in language they understand that outlines the attributes of a quality performance.
  • Model for your students how to compare a sample performance to the rubric to determine what area(s) might need improvement.
  • Talk with your students about what strategies will help them to close any gaps between their current level or knowledge and/or skill and where you would like them to be.


  • Work with your colleagues to rewrite some of the learning outcomes you have for your students into language your students will understand.
  • Engage your colleagues in a discussion about the strategies they use to help students self-assess the quality of their work.

Resources and Links

  • The article Helping Students Understand Assessment from Educational Leadership by Jan Chappuis provides an overview of formative assessment and steps you can take in the classroom to help students assess their own work.
  • The article Using Student-Involved Classroom Assessment to Close Achievement Gaps from Theory into Practice by Rick Stiggins and Jan Chappuis explains the necessary conditions for using classroom assessments to improve student learning. The article provides specific suggestions for involving students in classroom assessment.
  • The article Assessment, Student Confidence, and School Success, written by Rick Stiggins and published in Phi Delta Kappan, questions our current assumptions about assessment and provides a vision in which assessment is used to improve student learning and build student confidence.