Why self assessment by children is vital for learning

|6 min read

Editor’s Note:

This is an updated version of a blog post originally published on May 16th, 2018

Children have a vital role to play in taking responsibility for their own learning, and in supporting the learning of their peers. One of the foundational principles of formative assessment is to help children become actively engaged in accurately assessing their own understanding and taking action on that assessment.

Teachers can create amazing lessons by engineering discussions, scaffolding learning and providing guidance on the next steps in learning, but only pupils can do the learning. It can’t be done for them. In other words, pupils need to be able to calibrate, self-assess and reflect. They need to self-monitor, ask searching questions of themselves and others, and draw on a range of strategies to decide what they know, what they don’t know and what they partly know. They therefore have a big role to play in making their knowledge visible and upgrading their own understanding.

Assessment as learning develops and supports children’s metacognitive skills. This form of assessment is crucial in helping children become lifelong learners as it focuses their efforts ‘reflecting’ on their own learning. It powers a growth mindset where they see their maths ability as something that can change and improve.

Why children need to learn about themselves as learners

By engaging in self-assessment, children learn to make sense of maths and use it as a stepping stone for new learning. Monitoring and self-regulation skills are complex, and they don’t just magically happen. This is where the teacher steps in. The teacher’s role in modelling and teaching children how to self-assess and peer assess is crucial. This also involves guiding children in setting their own targets and goals and helping them monitor their progress toward them.

Teachers and children need to share a common assessment language for discussing thinking, decision-making, strategies, errors and misconceptions. When children are taught how to approach their own work and feedback, it helps them be reflective about the quality of their thinking and their actions. This involves asking questions about their own learning: What do I know? What do I need to know? What are the hurdles? How can I improve this? Assessment as learning helps children to take more responsibility for their own learning and monitoring future directions.

Providing models of good practice through careful coaching, helps children develop an awareness of success and how to recognise and respond to problem areas. Assessment as learning joins together metacognition, self-regulation and calibration so that children aren’t passive recipients of teaching and learning but they are actively engaged in their own critique and assessment that is kind, specific and helpful.

As children learn how to self- and peer assess this increases buy-in as they “grow to appreciate why they are doing what they are doing.” (Peps Mccrea – Memorable Teaching, 2017) and children develop a sense of ownership and efficacy. As children learn how to learn, they become able to focus their learning on the areas in which they feel they have the least confidence. They can begin to pinpoint which concepts they need to concentrate their efforts on.

The positive impact of journaling

One of the most powerful ways to promote self and peer assessment in a formative feedback classroom is to use maths journals or maths learning logs/diaries. Journaling provides children with opportunities to focus on their own learning journey and gives them opportunities to articulate their understanding, adjust and rethink. In order to get their ideas on paper, children must organise, clarify, and reflect on their thinking. It gives children a real sense of their strengths, weaknesses, distractions and obstacles.

Maths journaling is a naturally differentiated assessment tool and leads children to have a better conceptual understanding over time as well as helping to develop their use of mathematical vocabulary, meta-language and literacy across the curriculum. Journaling puts the responsibility for improvement firmly with children as they come to realise that they have a powerful role in moving forward.

Using maths journals raises the pupil’s stakes in the learning process as it puts them at the centre of learning – this is self-help assessment as learning. Journals also provide teachers with a rich resource of evidence to draw upon as it is a working document that gives an insight into children’s abilities, opinions, feelings, understandings and misconceptions. For this reason, it creates a portfolio-like record of growth and progress.

The importance of a relaxed attitude to learning

It is crucial that children express what they really know, understand and can do if formative assessment is to be used effectively. When we promote a growth mindset we allow ‘assessment as learning’ to flourish because children feel more relaxed and better able to express their ideas and to admit what they need to do to get better. Even mistake making can be a powerful component of learning. By embracing a culture of error where children aren’t afraid to reveal their misconceptions and not everything can be right the first time, they can take ownership of their learning as they challenge themselves to solve a problem.

Formative self-assessment is designed to motivate children and convince them that they are able to improve their performance through their own efforts and empower them to take control of their own learning. When assessment as learning is fully embedded in a classroom then children are able “to be self-efficacious, they know how to learn and self-regulate, they can steer their own learning, and their self-esteem and therefore their motivation – is high.” (Clare Lee – Language of Learning Mathematics, 2006)

Self- and peer assessment have an essential role to play in formative practice and to make this successful requires training and practice so children know how to be active agents in their own development. To enable children to reflect on their own and others’ work means they can use their critical faculties to be autonomous, strategic and creative mathematicians with the capacity to self-improve and close gaps.

Children who self-assess in this way are motivated to learn, will tackle challenges in flexible and reflective ways and are confident of success.


Lee, C. (2006) Language for Learning Mathematics. Berkshire: OUP
Mccrea, P. (2017) Memorable Teaching: leveraging memory to build deep and durable learning in the classroom. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

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