Self-assessment in the online classroom
India is going through a process of educational change, which the pandemic has accelerated. For Gargi Sarkar changes in assessment should be embraced, not resisted.
Assessment and change
The context of education is changing swiftly and strikingly in India. Even before the pandemic, things were becoming more complex. And now, change has simply accelerated. Incremental demands have put educators under pressure as schools are expected to meet a wide range of often conflicting needs. In such a shifting context, the way we assess our students has increasingly come under the spotlight.
The conventional debate has been about how traditional summative assessments can be validated when taking place online. However, the current round of regular term end examinations are largely proceeding in schools in the normal way, and this would seem to point the way for formal exams even during lockdown.
Which brings us to student self- assessment. Often talked about, and the subject of numerous training programmes, it has been identified as an essential component of formative assessment – assessment designed to enable learning (‘assessment for learning’) rather than identify what has been learned (‘assessment of learning’). The extent to which educators have successfully implemented formative strategies in India is not clear, but there can be little doubt that teaching the language curriculum has remained to a large extent teacher-centric, which does not allow the effective development of formative assessment.
Teachers in India are suspicious of self-assessment: they feel that the outcome will be inconsistent, unreliable, and disrupt routines. Educators also doubt the usefulness of the data. The root cause arises from the fact that teachers rather than their students are traditonally at the centre of our education system and formative self-assessment necessitates the incorporation of a kind of democracy in the classroom. The educator prefers to define the parameters with which to judge the students. Furthermore, students feel awkward in voicing the grade they deserve to a teacher. They are used to the teacher ‘defining’ their work for them.
Conditions for successful self-assessment
To be effective, self-assessment must be practical in terms of time and equipment and must fit into the busy schedule of the language classrooms, where there are often only two or three classes every week. The solution is to integrate self-assessment into everyday language classroom activities, so that it becomes a part of the regular process and procedures for teaching listening, reading, speaking and writing skills.
There are some obvious differences in terms of implementation between students in lower secondary and higher secondary. Younger students need more guided questionnaires and straightforward rating scales. Activities for them must be kept short and open and abstract questions usually avoided. However, upper secondary students are more than capable of assessing themselves using a wide variety of quite challenging material. Older students can also be involved in defining the criteria that will be used to judge their performance, and when given the chance, they can often have insightful ideas during discussions with teachers which can then be used to co-develop a rubric. I have no doubt that the learning involved in this process is powerful.
The development of clear rubrics are essential for the successful implementation of self-assessment. They must be expressed in lucid language that’s easily comprehensible, with clear objectives to guide students. Rubrics can be then utilized by the learners to self-evaluate their texts, which helps them to revise, develop, and improve. Within a constructivist framework, the co-construction of rubrics by teachers and students working together contributes to enhancing assessment for learning instead of the assessment of learning.
Preparation and practice
Of course you have to prepare students before they can assess themselves effectively. They need to be familiarised with different assessment tools, have plenty of practice with examples and learn how to conduct a ‘blind’ peer review of another student’s assignment.
When they get the hang of it and grow in confidence we can also tweak our summative grading system, reserving a certain percentage, say 15 per cent of the grade, to self-assessment, which will reveal what the student thinks of himself or herself. Every institution will have their own ideas and criteria of how to set up this up, but these basics should be born in mind: to re-emphasise the instruments used to measure self-assessment should be valid, reliable, appropriate and be produced as a collaboration between the teacher and the student.
If implemented systematically and integrated into classroom activities, self-assessment can not only make students more active; it can also assist them with the task of learning how to communicate in another language. Above all, students can be helped to perceive their own progress and intrinsically encouraged to see the value of what they are learning.
The prejudice against self-assessment remains, despite its obvious value during lockdown. In this era of online lectures and canvas education, students can be trained to be their own source of feedback as they assess themselves, and in the process become more motivated and involved in their own work. They have missed out on so much during the lockdown, and we owe it to them to make their online work enjoyable and rewarding. Developing effective and reliable formative self-assessment is an important way forward.
Gargi Sarkar is an Indian Educationist, who has taught English for 15 years and an experienced trainer. She is an International Exchange Alumna and has been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship Program from India.
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