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Helping students self assess

3 min read


Giving quizzes allows teachers to examine data and see what students understand and where they may need more practice. Ideally, quizzes should provide the same experience for the students themselves — allow them to reflect on what they know well and where they could improve. However, as any middle-school teacher will tell you, most students will look at the grade and then either proudly bring it home to mom, or — more likely — toss it in the recycle bin.

The ability to reflect on performance and use this information to improve oneself is a skill that can enhance one’s success. It is, therefore, a skill that I want to teach my students. To do this, I teach my students to reflect on their quizzes in order to learn from their mistakes. I use this as a math teacher, but it can be adapted to other subjects as well.

Quiz reflections come in all shapes and sizes. However, for me, there are three important aspects of reflection: examining the problem, analyzing the error, and learning how to perform the skill correctly.  My quiz reflection form is a simple three column chart, but there are tons of ideas out there for teachers to modify and adapt.

In the first column, students must rewrite the problem from the quiz. This can seem tedious, but think about all the times your students have answered problems incorrectly because they didn’t fully read or understand what the problem was asking. By rewriting it themselves, they take a more active approach in understanding what skills are needed to solve the problem.

In the second column, students have to correctly solve the problem. The question I must often get from students is, “Well, how do I do that if I got it wrong?” My response: Look in your notes, look in the book, ask a classmate, come in for extra help, etc. Most importantly, the students are forced to learn how to answer questions they weren’t able to before and in the process, hopefully understand the overall concepts better. Additionally, they become more resourceful in finding answers to questions they have, which they will hopefully be more proactive in doing the next time around.

In the third column, students have to state what they did wrong. “I don’t know” and “I got the answer wrong” are not accepted. “I multiplied incorrectly” or “I forgot to add the opposite when subtracting integers” are examples of acceptable sentences. Hopefully, by asking them to reflect on where they made the error, it will help them in two ways. First, they will not make the same mistake again in the future. Second, they can see trends in their mistakes: “Wow, I need to check my multiplication facts” or “Wow, I need to review my subtracting integer rules.”

Ideally, this skill becomes engrained in my students, and it helps them become successful — not only in math class — but in the rest of their lives.

Pauline Zdonek (@PaulineZd) is a special-education teacher in the Chicagoland area.  She has her master’s degree in elementary and special education, and has taught in both urban and suburban school districts.