The Role and Rigor of Self-Assessment in MakerEd


by Christa Flores -

The Role and Rigor of Self-Assessment in MakerEd (Part 1)

by Christa Flores


What is Self-Assessment?

The purpose of teacher driven assessment is to measure whether a student is ready to move on to the next topic in a given curriculum. Often this translates to the next chapter of a text book. If the student passes the teacher’s assessment, the next step in her education is given to her in lockstep manner. This approach to learning and assessment, while comfortably quantifiable, unfortunately fails to approach the full spectrum of learning that modern day education has to offer children and adults. Throw MakerEd spaces into the mix, and you have a recipe for a revolution in assessment, beginning with handing the right and responsibility of assessment, over to our students.

Dr. Betty MacDonald of the University of Trinidad and Tobago, and leader in the field of using self-assessment to support individualization, describes self-assessment in the following manner;  “the involvement of students in identifying standards and/or criteria to apply to their work and making judgements about the extent to which they have met these criteria and standards.” When a learner does not utilize the  insight of others more their own critical insight into their progress towards a learning goal, they are using self-assessment. Self-Assessment is any form of assessment that is undertaken by the learner as a first person. Autonomy to diagnosis one’s work (with or without the aid of an expert), can come into play cyclically during a making activity. Documenting that process becomes, by necessity, the responsibility of the learner.  

The nuts and bolts of self-assessment? Regardless of how you define it, I have seen in the past three and half years that using self-assessment allows a learner to work towards an ability to:

  1. Critique Quality of Work (self and others)

    1. Based on principles of design, science, engineering and research

    2. Based on a rubric of pre-selected standards created by students or teacher

    3. Based on peer-feedback and classroom mentoring

  1. Diagnose and Describe a Problem/Propose Solutions

    1. Documentation, verbal or written of pass or fail for a given (can be 100% teacher driven or 100% student driven) goal

  2. Communicate Competence and Reasoning

    1. Illustrate knowledge of concepts or skills through application (authentic assessments such as pass/fail) or representation (as in a paper test or essay)

    2. Argue for the use of specific materials and design ideas

    3. Mentor others in the use of a tool or technique



Need to know how to clean a carburetor, make a souffle or pronounce Dutch words? Students can instantly explore any topic or new skill they are passionate about by browsing YouTube or any other DIY site. Awareness that education, or learning in general will no longer be the proprietary interest of a few elite institutions, Raymond Cirmo of  Cheshire Academy (Connecticut) and Vice President of the Connecticut Science Teachers Association, sums up this inevitable shift from teacher-driven curriculum to student-driven, when he says; “We first need to realize that the students are not in our classroom, we are in their classroom. And the room is not set up for us to teach; it is here for us to be facilitators in the students' learning.” Combine access with motivation and you have an increasingly self-educated population lead by experts and amateurs alike.

With trends towards more differentiation in education, also termed a “student-centered” approach to learning, the teacher no longer defines, or impedes, what students find relevant or engaging to learn. Gary Stager, of Invent to Learn and Constructing Modern Knowledge, describes his tactic for supporting student learning with the following mantra, “Just get out of the a way!”  A tactic that works well for encouraging a love of learning, but what happens when you are part of a system that gives students grades?

In the more self-directed learning environments of MakerEd, content knowledge is gained as it becomes relevant to a solution for a problem at hand. Not every student learns the same concepts or acquires the same skills. This presents a major problem for assessing a student on a standardized scale. Consider the alternative; teaching content to assess the retention of content, as the Common Core has left many doing.  Assuming you agree, that we are heading in the correct direction in education, you may then wonder; Where does all of this relinquishing of power leave us as teachers? What active role do we take as the champions of our students’ passions and pursuits of purpose?



I believe that MakerEd practitioners and champions will offer the best classroom models to answer the above questions. Witnessing the wonders of MakerEd teaches us to foster an environment of growth and self-actualization by using forms of assessment that challenge our students to critique their work, and the work of their peers. This is where the role of self-assessment begins to shine light.  

What We Gain from Self-Assessment

Shifting assessment in the classroom from the hands of the adult educator, to the empowered learner can include the following educational benefits:

1) Assessment Literacy - Students learn how to critique their work and the work of others for quality, growth and even creativity.

2) Communicators who defend a Claim - Students learn to use argument, logic, evidence-based reasoning, and various literacy (including technology) skills to judge and defend a claim about their work. Students practice at making thinking visible.

3) 21 Century Librarians - Our students are growing up in a world where information is increasingly free and accessible to those with internet access. The ability to navigate one’s own learning using the sea of available resources is a vital skill to be cultivated.

4) Participation in Democratic Education - Allowing students to have a say in what they learn, as well as how they share, celebrate and give evidence of growth allows for a more empowered learner.

In summary, using non-traditional forms of assessment to support our students can feel risky and more messy. Keep faith, however, as noted in an article entitled Using self-assessment to support individualized Learning, by Dr. Betty MacDonald, “The process is time consuming, but the dividends are worth far more than the time invested, especially when you consider the long-term benefits of life-long learning.”


Next Up:

The Role and Rigor of Self-Assessment in MakerEd (Part 2): How effective is Self-Assessment?



Works Cited

1. Andrade, Heidi, and Anna Valtcheva. "Promoting Learning and Achievement Through Self-Assessment." Theory Into Practice 48.1 (2009): 12-19. Print.

2. MacDonald, Betty (2012) “Using Self-Assessment to Support Individualized Learning” Mathematics Teaching. Association of Teachers of Mathematics

3. Smith, Calvin Douglas, Kate Worsfold, Lynda Davies, Ron Fisher, and Ruth Mcphail. "Assessment Literacy and Student Learning: The Case for Explicitly Developing Students ‘assessment Literacy’." Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education (2011): 1-17.




David Hann (@teacherhann)'s picture

"Not every student learns the same concepts or acquires the same skills. This presents a major problem for assessing a student on a standardized scale."

This is the heart of the matter isn't it? We need a major shift in parent and societal expecatations for students. When a student graduates grade 12 - CAN THEY LEARN ON THEIR OWN? I think THAT needs to be the assessment question. This is a yes/no, pass/fail question. Not readily quantifiable into neat percentages. I imagine the exit exam would have multiple differentiated components that might go something like this:

  • a student is presented with a certain computer program they've never seen and asked to do some task (ie. figure out how to use the program)
  • a student is shown a video of a certain current event/topic and asked to present an argument for and against it (ie. demonstrate learning from self teaching)
  • etc. (variety of areas so different learners have opportunity to demonstrate learning)

It begs the question: what is the primary purpose of our education system? To retain content? To gather skills? Or to learn how to learn? (Or a little of everything?)

I'm considering a little personal "thinking/learning" experiment - to see if I know how to learn. I didn't do very well at all in high school calculus. So consequentially I consider myself "not good at math", and some could say the education system let me down and did not successfully educate me. However, if our lense is "do I know how to learn?" [and assuming that I DID learn how to learn - graduating with honours on AVERAGE, which smooths out the parts I was really good at with the parts I wasn't then I should be able to teach myself that], then I should be able to learn how to do calculus now on my own. (I say on my own, but of course I including "my ability to learn from others through collaboration" as opposed to being strictly "on my own" a la a university final exam in a big gym with separated desks and expulsion for cheating.)


Thanks Christa for some great thoughts! I'm doing the pinball project again this year (hoping to make it even better) and Self Assessment is probably going to be a big part, so this post has been very helpful with my thinking! Happy New Year!

Christa Flores's picture

Thank you David for your comments. I wish I could commit to one project each year and get better, but we move with the tide the 5th graders and I. I will miss pinball or sure. 

To your questions: It begs the question: what is the primary purpose of our education system? To retain content? To gather skills? Or to learn how to learn? (Or a little of everything?)

I believe that laerning how to learn is what happens when we learn stuff. It is a mindset and an action. The environments we set up for our students will help to foster the growth or learner mindset or not. Assessment plays a DANGEROUSLY important role in this matter, as you can imagine.  Keep me posted on this years new crop of kisses.