Student self-assessment: capitalizing on its benefits?

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Assessment is a recurring theme in my blogging. I think that is because it was my biggest challenge when I started teaching. I wrote before how I thought that teacher-training programs do not prepare us sufficiently for our role as assessors as they do for our role as teachers. This blogpost will focus more on self-assessment and how I came to use it in my classroom. I am now a lot more comfortable with my use of student self-assessment in class, but it didn’t start as such. I would also like to invite other educators to comment and suggest other ways to fully capitalize on the benefits of student self-assessment.

The context is a unit of work on improvisational theatre for my year 7 drama classes. I always post the main content on the board for every lesson (imagine writing this four times a week for about six weeks!). Below is a copy of the whiteboard with the main learning material posted on it. Basically it is a simplified list of the features of the best improvisations and what the best improvisers do. We refer constantly to those two lists when the students give each other feedback on their performances, and when the students assess and evaluate their own performances.

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After having practiced improvisational skills for about five or six weeks through playing various improv games and theatresports, the students are given this task sheet that will be used to assess Criterion B (Application). They are told that this MYP Arts criterion is used to assess ideas, skills, techniques and processes. The students are then given a prompt for their improvisation, and the performances are filmed. After all performances, the students watch the video of their improvisations and then use the checklist in the task sheet to assess their performance.

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The last step required of the student is to use the self-assessment column in the rubric below to give themselves a mark out of 10 for Criterion B (Application).

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Last year, this process was already in place for me. However, I didn’t really know what the next step should be. I didn’t know how to fully bridge the gap between the student’s self-assessment and my own teacher’s assessment of their work. I did a lot of reading and professional learning on assessment, and I finally came across a fantastic alternative assessment tool: conferencing with the students. It seems very common-sensical, but in actual fact it wasn’t for me.

What I learned to do after the students use the checklist and the rubric to assess their work, is to conference with each one of them. I use this 2-3 minute chat (which I build into class-time), to probe further reflection. I ask questions such as: “Why did you give yourself this mark? What suggestions for improvement do you have for yourself?”. I also constantly remind them to refer to the guidelines for successful improvisations/improvisers written on the whiteboard for their oral reflection during the conferencing. Students are often (though not always) quite capable of evaluating their own work and formulating their own feedback for improvement. Of course, you will come across the students that under-assess themselves and those that over-assess themselves. I always remind the ones that under-assess their work that they are being too hard on themselves and focus on highlighting the positive aspects of their work. I also probe further reflection from those that over-assess themselves and ask them to see how they can improve. Using their performance, checklist, rubric self-assessment and the conference, I finally arrive at my own teacher-assessment, which I add to their rubric in the teacher assessment column, reminding them to use this discussion in the conference as their feedback for improvement.

I am now much more comfortable with the way I administer the task and assess the students, and with the way I allow students to assess themselves and evaluate their own work. However, I believe there is always room for improvement. I would like to invite teachers and educators to share their thoughts, views and suggestions.

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My MYP Drama Assessment Framework

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When I started teaching MYP Performing Arts (Drama), I had very little to work with. The school had no drama curriculum in place, as it was never previously taught. The library was very under-resourced. The staff only thought of drama as a big school production, not as a subject with specific skills that can be taught, practiced and assessed.

I struggled to gather the necessary resources, and to set up a curriculum using the MYP Unit Planner (as a template for my units of work) and the MYP Arts Guide. My biggest struggle, however, was building an assessment framework that was efficient to administer, practical, valid, authentic and reliable. Before going on to describe my assessment framework, after several trials of refining, I will first explain the challenges I face at my workplace:

  • Performing Arts is only timetabled as one double-period per class per week (compared to six periods for English, for instance). Since a term is about ten weeks, I end up seeing each class an average of seven to eight times a term, when you factor in the lessons cancelled due to excursions, incursions, school-events, sports-events etc… I teach each class for a semester (two terms), and I have two units of work (one unit of work per term).
  • Performing Arts is timetabled as a compulsory subject for years 6, 7 and 8. This means that I will get a lot of students who don’t want to be there, either because they’re shy/self-conscious or they don’t care much for the arts, or both.
  • Most students come from families that also do not appreciate the arts due to cultural or religious reasons. For this reason, many students show indifference towards the marks they earn in the subject, and those that excel are not often recognized for it by their parents.

This assessment framework is a product of many trails and errors, and there is always room for improvement and feedback.

Assessment Criterion A: Knowledge & Understanding

This criterion was often hard for me to assess because I did not want to allocate too many double-periods for theoretical work. I tried worksheets with comprehension questions to accompany a PowerPoint presentation, but that was very disengaging for the students (not to mention very boring for me as a teacher). Additionally, I came to realize that it’s not a very reliable way of assessing understanding, because it just encouraged copying the answers directly from the PowerPoint.

Then, a very helpful friend of mine suggested that I should get the students to talk about what they learned, as that is a more reliable measure. So, I decided to photocopy some handouts from books, and design an oral presentation task where the students read the information, summarize it (guided by questions), supplement it with additional research, and then teach it to the rest of the class through an oral presentation.

This task is more practical to administer as it does not involve collecting worksheets and marking them, which is time-consuming, and also because it allows the students to talk about what they learned which is a more reliable measure of their understanding. I also give the students some basic information to help them answer the questions, while allowing the ones who want to excel the opportunity to research for additional information. Each student is also assessed individually as they are presenting. This whole assessment process can be started and finished in the same double-period, or over two double-periods if students want more time to research.

Below are sample tasks used to assess knowledge and understanding in a unit of work on Improvisational Theatre. These tasks assess the first two strands of the criterion, which require students to “demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the art form studied… and elements of the art form studied”. The last strand of Criterion A, which requires the students to “communicate a critical understanding of the art form studied…”, is assessed through asking students to evaluate a peer’s performance and express an opinion on it using this form: Peer evaluation

Criterion A sample task #1 and sample task #2 used to assess first two strands. Below is a screen-cast describing one task and how it is administered.

Criterion B: Application

The buzzwords I use with my students to explain this criterion are: ideas, skills, techniques, and processes. Therefore, the tasks I create to assess this criterion have to flesh out these four elements. Additionally, I often assess this criterion summatively, at the end of a unit of work, while I use the other criteria for my formative assessment. This is because it allows the students a whole term to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the art form; practice the skills, techniques and processes involved in the unit of work; and reflect on and evaluate their work before I finally assess their application of those skills, techniques and processes.

Below is a sample task I use to assess Criterion B (Application) in a unit of work on Improvisational Theatre. The students are given the task sheet, told that they will be organized into groups and given a prompt. A visual timer is then used to give the students a minute to quickly discuss/prepare their performance based on the prompt (as they are aware that an improvisation is unscripted and unrehearsed). During this preparation phase, I will jot down some notes to see if they’re applying the correct processes and techniques involved (such as using the CROW [Characters, Relationships, Objective and When/Where] framework to prepare their performance). The students then perform their improvisation, and video footage is taken of their performance to help them in the self-assessment/self-evaluation that follows. After their performance, the audience members are asked to ‘play director’ by giving positive comments or useful suggestions for future performances, and the performers are given a chance to respond to the feedback received. After all groups have performed their improvisation, the performances are projected on the screen to allow the students the chance to self-assess their artwork. Lastly, the students are called up to the teacher one-by-one to conference with the teacher, discuss their self-assessment and their goals for improvement and to receive the teacher’s assessment on their rubric based on their application of the skills, techniques, and processes taught in the unit of work. This whole assessment process can be started and finished in the same double-period.

Criterion B sample task. Below is a screencast describing the task and how it is administered.

Criterion C: Reflection & Evaluation

I previously published a post about ongoing student reflection, which described how reflection plays a very important role is my classroom, and is an ongoing continuous process. Therefore, I will not dwell too much on this criterion. The students in my classroom are constantly being asked to reflect and evaluate, either orally or in written form. This is done in the form of a debriefing after every warm-up exercise and every performance (oral reflection), allowing the students to respond to feedback after their performance (oral reflection), and asking students to write a FOUR-SENTENCE reflection at the end of every lesson using this Reflection help-sheet (adapted from The Black Box).

I do not necessarily grade or mark all these oral reflections or every four-sentence reflection, sometimes it is enough to just leave my initials on the reflection or ask questions to probe more reflection. However, after having practiced reflection and evaluation in the drama classroom for a few weeks, I assign the students a performance task, telling them that I will not assess the actual performance but rather the reflection and evaluation written after it. The students perform while being filmed using a camera (iPad), then their performance is projected to help them reflect on and evaluate their own artwork using this task sheet: Criterion C sample task. Occasionally, and for formative purposes, the students can be asked to use this self-evaluation to evaluate their performance as well. Therefore, there are several pieces of evidence of ongoing student reflection to add to their drama portfolio.

Here is a screencast explaining the task and how it is administered (the task is administered and assessed in one whole double-period):

Criterion D: Personal Engagement

I rely mostly on my observations, anecdotes as well as student self-assessment checklists to assess this criterion. The students are told at the beginning of the term that I will observe and collect anecdotal notes about their ability to work with peers (group co-operation), their audience etiquette (audience skills), their commitment to class activities, their levels of self-confidence (or willingness to perform), their appreciation of the artworks presented in class, as well as how neat, complete and well-organized their drama portfolio is. Below are some student self-evaluations for some of these attitudes:

Criterion D: group-work self-evaluation (adapted from TeacherVision) and audience skills self-evaluation

To conclude, I believe my assessment framework has several advantages: it is efficient and practical to administer, it is easier to explain to the students as one criterion is assessed at a time, each assessment task can be run throughout a whole double-period which means it is not interrupted by student absences, it allows student self-assessment for every criterion which encourages reflection, and it leaves the students with plenty of evidence to add to their drama portfolio to show their progress in learning to think and feel like an artist.

Please feel free to leave comments, suggestions for improvement or feedback.

Ongoing student reflection?

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When I started teaching Drama under the MYP Arts curriculum area, I had a few problems understanding what the IB-MYP meant when they wrote that reflection has to be ‘on-going’ in any MYP Arts course (refer to these excerpts from the IB-MYP Arts Guide to get what I mean). I felt very pressured to constantly come up with reflection questions for students. It took me a very long time to actually create a reflection structure and framework that satisfies the MYP requirements, is easy to explain to the students and is efficient to administer. Through careful reading, research and collaboration with MYP teachers in other schools, I came to understand that in the MYP Arts, Criterion C (Reflection and Evaluation) has three main strands:
1- the ability to reflect on progress, challenges and easies
2- the ability to evaluate own artwork (strengths and weaknesses)
3- the ability to receive feedback constructively

At first, I created a set of reflection questions that I would use with the students at the end of every lesson to prompt their reflection. But I wasn’t yet satisfied, as that required either writing up questions on the whiteboard and getting the students to copy them and answer, which is time-consuming; or printing worksheets with reflection questions, which is a waste of paper. Finally, I came across this wonderful website/blog by an IB Theatre/Drama teacher: The Black Box. I asked if I could borrow a reflection help-sheet that this teacher created, and I tweaked it so that it would better suit my class. This help-sheet includes sentence starters in four different categories: ‘strengths/easy/good/fun’, ‘weaknesses/hard/problems’, ‘improve’ and ‘feedback’. These four categories cover all the strands under Criterion C (Reflection and Evaluation). At the end of the lesson, I would allow the students some time to write their ‘four-sentence reflection’ on a piece of loose-leaf paper that they would keep in their portfolio. Here is a link to the reflection help-sheet and here is a photo of it:

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Once the students practice writing their four-sentence reflection a few times, I then assess Criterion C (Reflection & Evaluation) using a task-sheet. This task sheet requires them to watch a video recording of their performance, write their four-sentence reflection, conduct a self-assessment of their work through a checklist, and then write up a performance evaluation:

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The students are then also asked to self-assess themselves on their ability to reflect and evaluate using this modified rubric (they give themselves a mark out of 8 in the Student’s Self-Assessment column):

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I also make use of reflection to help me assess other criterion, by allowing students to evaluate and self-assess themselves. For example, in this task below, the students create an improvised performance, watch a video recording of themselves performing, self-assess their skills and techniques using a checklist, and then give themselves a mark out of 10 for Criterion B (Application):

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Student self-assessments and self-evaluations are a form of reflection, and I make use of them when gathering data to assess Criterion D (Personal Engagment). Here is a modified version of a group-work self-evaluation I found on this website: TeacherVision. I use this self-evaluation to assess ‘ability to work actively and supportively with peers’ which is one of the strands under Criterion D (Personal Engagement):

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Another attitude I am often interested in assessing is ‘Audience Etiquette’ or ‘Audience Skills’. To gather data about this attitude, I also make use of the following self-evaluation:

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These are all examples of how I use written reflections in my drama classroom. We also carry out a great deal of oral reflection and evaluation in the class. For example, after every drama game or warm-up, we reflect orally and debrief on what was the benefit of this game/warm-up and what skills do we practice by playing it. Additionally, after every performance, some students are selected to step into the ‘director’s shoes’ and give positive feedback or useful suggestions. Lastly, performers themselves are asked to deliver a short oral explanation of their performance and how they worked in the group, what they found challenging and what was easy.

I believe I have finally fulfilled the MYP requirement of having ongoing reflection. The students are constantly reflecting orally, in addition to carrying out at least one form of written reflection every lesson: four-sentence reflections, or self-assessment checklists, or performance self-evaluations, or self-assessments of attitudes, in addition to allowing them the opportunity to self-assess each of the MYP Arts Criteria of Assessment.