The main role of self-assessment in a language classroom is to raise learners’ awareness of their still developing language features, enable them to reflect on their own learning process, and also self-correct their mistakes in subsequent language use. Effective self-assessment should provide learners with enough opportunities not only for such reflections, but also to monitor and improve their learning processes. In ESL writing classrooms, teachers sometimes give learners an assessment grid or can-do statements and ask them to score or grade their own written performance. Very often, however, such grading and scoring does not enable learners to use their analytical power to their optimum level to reflect on the problems in their writing capability or to find the loopholes in their existing knowledge. In the present study, I attempted to provide learners with such opportunities by asking them to first score their own writing and then give a written justification for their scoring. A week after the self-assessment, a parallel writing task was administered to the students. A detailed analysis of the students’ written responses (to task one and two) and their justification for self-scoring was done to determine the influence of these justifications on their second writing task. The findings suggested that some issues discussed by the students in their justification regarding some of the aspects of their writing such as content and organisation were resolved in their second writing task.
Keywords: Self-assessment; assessing writing; awareness raising; self-regulated learning; assessment as learning; classroom based assessment
The pedagogic assessment of learners’ continually developing knowledge, skills and abilities, which is what aids the learning and the teaching that happens in classroom situations, has been the prime concern of researchers in the area of classroom based assessment over the past two decades (Durairajan, 2015; Cizek, 2010; William, 2010; Black et al., 2004; ARG, 2002; Black and William, 1998). The two ways in which such classroom assessments have pedagogical benefits are “assessment for learning” and “assessment as learning” (Black & William, 1998). Both these concepts are examples of formative assessment procedures. The former refers to the process of collecting evidence of students’ learning and development several times during an educational programme and using that data as feedback to modify if needed the concurrent plans of instruction, while the latter gets learners to learn by assessing their own or others’ performance. Self-assessment as a formative assessment tool in classroom contexts is an example of “assessment as learning”. It is a form of reflective assessment that involves learners in the process of assessment as an integral part of the learning activity. This process of self-assessment brings about changes in the students’ learning experiences in the classroom by enabling them to assess their own knowledge learning and abilities. Such an assessment also makes them reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, which in turn enables them to monitor their own progress and set learning goals for themselves to match the stipulated curricular objectives or in some contexts, even go beyond the stated objectives.
The terms “self-evaluation” and “self-assessment” are used interchangeably in research and hence teachers consider them as synonymous. However, there is a distinction: “self-evaluation” refers to the process of involving students in grading or scoring their own work, whereas with “self-assessment”, merely assigning grades or scores is not sufficient. Self-assessment requires learners to reflect on their performance and gauge their capabilities against the given criteria (Andrade & Valtcheva, 2009). In a second language classroom, this process of reflection and assessment against the given criteria raises learners’ awareness about their own progress and helps them understand the features of their still-developing language abilities. Hence, an effective self-assessment of learners’ L2 abilities should give them enough opportunities to not only reflect on their still-developing knowledge and skills, but also to monitor and improve their own learning and performance.
In ESL writing classrooms, teachers usually give learners an assessment grid or “can do statements” (Moeller, A. & Yu, F., 2015) and ask them to score or grade their own written performance by using these statements as a base. Although such grading and scoring involves learners in the process of making judgements about the quality of their written performance using the given criteria, in most cases, learners jump to conclusions without making the necessary links between the criteria and their writing, as they are not able to understand the criteria and apply it to their writing to make the best possible accurate assessment of their own capabilities. This happens because, for most learners, the act of understanding the assessment criteria and applying it to their writing is a cognitively challenging endeavour. Consequently, since usually students are only required to submit their grades or the scores as the end product of such self-assessment tasks, they tend to just assign some random score or grade, which is often inaccurate and thereby becomes an unreliable assessment. Such assessment may help a few learners in some ways to improve their writing skills but it is unlikely to enable the majority of the learners in the classroom to use their analytical power to the optimum level to reflect on the problems in their writing capability or to find the loopholes in their existing knowledge.
In the present study, I will attempt to provide learners with opportunities to reflect on their writing capabilities and find the loopholes in their knowledge and skills by enabling them first to score their narrative essays against the given self-assessment criteria and then provide a written justification for their scoring. Through this study I will attempt to answer the following research questions:
How far do the self-assessment justifications enable learners to reflect on their writing abilities?
What is the effect of students’ self-assessment-justification for their scoring on their subsequent writing?
A class of forty women undergraduate learners of English studying in a Telangana State Government Residential college for the students of Backward Classes were given a narrative writing task (Task 1, Appendix 1) as part of their usual communicative English classroom activity. Next, the teacher prepared self-assessment criteria focusing on the content of their essays. The criteria included sub-features of content such as content development, content relevance and content organisation. A week later, the teacher-researcher asked ten students from the same class to assess their written essays using the criteria they had been given. The students were given their written scripts and the self-assessment criteria, and were asked to read and discuss the criteria in pairs in order to understand it better. After ten minutes, the teacher-researcher explained the criteria and the self-assessment tasks to the students and asked them to complete the task individually (Appendix 2). As they were sitting in pairs, they were encouraged to either ask the teacher, or discuss and clear their doubts with each other. As the teacher, I walked around the class, observed each pair and provided help or clarifications as required.
The self-assessment task involved asking the students to first read and discuss the criteria, interpret it for themselves, and finally read and score their own written essays based on the criteria. According to the criteria and the teacher-researcher’s explanation, they were expected to score their essays for the following features of writing. The teacher-researcher’s version of the criteria has been reproduced here (students used Telugu, whenever needed, to help them understand these features):
Whether they have used and generated sufficient amount of information or used enough ideas to develop the essay. Whether there are repetitions or unnecessary details in the essay.
Whether the essay is relevant to the given task or the quality of the information provided in the essay—the teacher asked the learners to check if the information given in the essay was relevant to the given topic and that there was no fake or irrelevant information.
Whether they have presented their ideas in a logical and sequential manner. Whether the essay has a proper introduction, development and logical conclusion.
After they finished scoring, they were asked to give reasons for their scoring in the form of written justifications. As most of the students did not know what they were supposed to write as justifications, I had to take the help of another teacher to explain the task in their mother tongue. Apart from this I also went around and explained the task to each pair separately with the help of examples.
A week after self-assessment, the teacher-researcher gave the learners another narrative writing task (Task 2, Appendix 1) parallel to task 1, to check how the process of self-assessment had helped them in self-reflecting and monitoring their learning in the subsequent written piece.
The data gained through learner written essays (tasks 1 and 2), their scores, their written justification for their scoring and the teacher-researcher’s reflective notes were analysed qualitatively to assess the quality and effect of their self-assessment-justification on their subsequent writing performance in task 2.
Results and Findings
A gap between scoring and assessment
When the teacher asked the learners to write their justifications, most of the students did not understand what they were supposed to do. They were able to give themselves marks, but they could not justify them. They all looked puzzled even after the teacher explained the concept of justification to them in their mother tongue (Telugu). All of them did try to re-read the criteria and their own answer script to figure out what to write as justification or the rationale behind their scoring, but they still looked lost. After a while, I stepped in and went to each pair and asked them a few questions based on the scores they had assigned. If some student had given a three out of five, I asked that student: “What is there in your essay that made you give it three marks and not five or one?” or “What do you think you will have to do in order to get five out of five?” Following this fine-tuned, learner-centred assistance consisting of a range of strategies, on what to write in the justification, almost half the students changed their initial scores. They reassessed and scored their essays after reading them once again and then went on to write self-reflective justification for their scores.
Given here is a list of the relevant excerpts from the students’ justifications for their scoring:
“I did not give conclusion. I did not explain completely about the day. I know simple past but I did not use.”
“I did not understand I wrote small essay. Grammatically mistakes. Sentence formation.”
“I did not give proper introduction. I know past tense but I got confused.”
“I did not mention the problem faced. I did not mention my experience in new campus.”
“I not mention the complete information so 4 marks and my opinion is not complete. Conclusion is not mentioned and starting sentence is not correct.”
“In this essay, I explain only problem faced. I cannot write anything. So I give 2 marks for this reason. I can’t write impression about the building, time spent entire day so given 2 marks.”
“Neither she was not able to asses accurately nor she could give any justification. She just wrote a few sentences.”
“No repeated sentences. And so many mistakes their essay and not get the 5 marks. And better this essay and not bad so not less marks. And so many grammar mistakes and not used correct sentence formation.”
“I will give marks 4 only because I will mention problems and reason. The most be problems is water if, factory smell also that why I will give four marks only.”
“I am not given the conclusion about this campus. I was not explained completely about that day.”
These justifications given by the students for the score they had given themselves is proof that even though they had never attempted such a task before, they were capable of both reflection and analysis. In fact, they may not even have thought about these justifications if they had been asked to merely score their essays. A qualitative analysis of the relevant excerpts of the students’ justifications suggests that most students commented on the content of their essay. Student-1 stated, “I did not explain completely about the day”, which suggests that she could self-reflect and realise that she could have included some more details about how she had spent that day. A similar type of reflection and realisation can be seen in Student 2’s statement, “I not mention the complete information so 4 marks and my opinion is not complete”; Student 4 stated: “I did not mention the problem faced, I did not mention my experience in new campus”; Student 5 added “I not mention the complete information so 4 marks and my opinion is not complete.”; Student 6 wrote, “I explain only problem faced. I cannot write anything I can’t write impression about the building, time spent entire day”. In all these examples, the students were able to analyse their own writing and were able to notice the loop holes in the content of their writing. These students realised that there were very few of ideas in their essays and they could have used more ideas and provided more information to get full marks. If a teacher was to assess these scripts, he/she would also give similar reasons about the content development in the essay. A few students also talked about the content organization (3 and 5) and accuracy of the essays (1, 2, and 8).
Quality and relevance of the content
When we look at the second set of essays written by the students (task 2), it becomes clear that they showed improvement in different ways, but for all of them, the act of writing a justification for their scores helped them reflect on their writing skills. In task 1, out of 10 students, 3 students had not written an essay appropriate to the topic. Instead of narrating the events that took place on the particular day and mentioning their experience, they had written a description of the college building. Two of them were able to see this problem and write about it in their justification; both of them attempted to writean actual narration instead of a description in their response to task 2. Their justification of the self-scoring suggests that they had realised the problem with their writing. This was also evident in their response to task 2. An excerpt from their justification is given below:
I did not understand I wrote small essay. Grammatically mistakes. Sentence formation.
In this essay I explain only problem faced. I can not write anything. So I give 2 marks for this reason. I can’t write impression about the building, time spent entire day so given 2 marks.
Organisation of the content
Three students had referred to the organisation of their essay in their justification following task 1. All of them had better content organisation in task 2, with a clear introduction, body, etc. A few sample comments are given below.
“I did not give conclusion. I did not explain completely about the day.”
“I did not give proper introduction. I know past tense but I got confused.”
“Conclusion is not mentioned and starting sentence is not correct.”
“I am not given the conclusion about this campus.”
Student 1 had written a description of the college building in her response to task one. Moreover, there was no proper conclusion in her essay and the beginning was abrupt. She had also written the entire essay in a single paragraph. In task 2, not only did she write a narration instead of a description, but she had a good introduction and a logical conclusion to her essay. Similarly, students 3 and 4 also noticed that the conclusion was missing in their essays which they wrote in response to task 1, and they have made an attempt to add it in task 2. Student 2 had stated that her introduction was not good. Actually, she had a very abrupt beginning in task 1, but in task 2 she was able to introduce the topic by making an effective opening statement.
In conclusion, the present study has established that a self-assessment task is incomplete without demands being made on students to think , analyse and reflect on their own knowledge, skills and abilities. Self-scoring based on certain criteria, coupled with written justifications for that scoring generates more opportunities for learners to reflect on their own learning process and find the loopholes in their still-developing knowledge. The process of self-assessment is complex and cognitively demanding, but with proper help from the teacher, peer support, use of the first or more enabled language and more importantly, the embedding of the self-assessment task in a rich context, learners will be able to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in the process of learning.
Andrade, H. & Valtcheva, A. (2009). Promoting learning and achievement through self-assessment. Theory Into Practice, 48(1), 12-19.
Assessment Reform Group. (2002). Assessment for learning: 10 principles. Retrieved from http://www.assessment-reform-group.org.uk/CIE3.pdf
Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B. & Wiliam, D. (2004). Working inside the black box: Assessment for learning in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(1), 8-21.
Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. London, UK: King’s College London School of Education.
Cizek, G. (2010). An introduction to formative assessment: History, characteristics, and challenges. In H. Andrade, J. Cizek (Eds.), Handbook of formative assessment (pp. 3-17). New York: Routledge.
Durairajan, G. (2015). Assessing learners: A pedagogic resource. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Moeller, A. & Yu, F. (2015). NCSSFL-ACTFL can-do statements: An effective tool for improving language learning within and outside the classroom. Dimension, 50, 69.
William, D. (2010). An integrative summary of the research literature and implications for a new theory of formative assessment. In H. Andrade & J. Cizek, (Eds.), Handbook of formative assessment (pp. 18-40). New York: Routledge.
Vikas Kadam is a Ph.D. research scholar working on “Dynamic Assessment of English Writing Skills” at The School of English Language Education, EFL-U Hyderabad. Having obtained an M.Phil. from University of Hyderabad at the Centre of English Language Studies, his areas of interest are language assessment, dynamic assessment, classroom based assessment, sociocultural theory, instructional materials development and academic writing.
Appendix 1: Writing Prompts
Recently your college has shifted from the old building to a new building. Narrate your experience of the first day on this new campus. Mention the time of each event or action you mention in your essay and your experience of travelling to this place. Also write about the things you did, the people you met, the problems you faced and how you dealt with them.
Write a short narration of your experience of your first day in college after your 12th standard.
You should include the following details in your narration—
The things you did throughout the day
People you met and your experience with them
Your impression of the college and the building
Your learning experience of that day
Appendix 2: Self-Assessment Criteria for the Learners