What strategies do I use when I get into difficulties?

Despite the depth of literature illustrating the positive effects of self-assessment on aspects of student learning (i.e. Thomson et al., 2005; McDonald and Boud, 2003; Black and Williams, 1998 etc) this study was unable to provide sufficient evidence to support this trend. The effect of the quality of student self-assessment and overall academic achievement was found to be inconclusive due to the robustness of data and the limited amount of time. While there may not be enough evidence to make any concrete conclusions, the findings did show a positive trend between the level and quality of their self-assessment practice and improved test scores (academic achievement) for some students. The majority of students also displayed a capacity to self-evaluate their progress and with further self-assessment training and practice it is believed that more positive trends may emerge across the class coupled with stronger links toward academic achievement. It is hoped that this greater sense of independence would mirror Wells’ (1998) observation regarding the positive change in students capabilities from year 7 to year 8, and develop over subsequent years leading into senior school and beyond.

As Joyce et al. (2009) point out, it takes time to embed self-assessment in the classroom and for it to take effect with students. Without the time constraints of the current study (only 9 weeks in total) and a richer set of data samples, a regular routine of self-assessment would be beneficial to increase independent student learning and improved academic achievement in this classroom. In line with this trend, students did demonstrate a positive learning curve in the quality and complexity of self-assessment over time whilst also developing key new geographical skills. Observation, class and individual discussion confirmed this, with the perception that the introduction of self-assessment to this class helped establish student skills and a broader consciousness of the responsibility for their own learning. However, it should be noted that based on continued observations, by the researcher, throughout the term, many students still showed levels of dependence when it came to completing tasks independently – including writing in their learning journals.

The data analysis from the self-monitoring sheets provides valuable insights surrounding student thinking and behaviour when learning. The findings suggest students showed a lesser tendency to ask questions, ask for help and be conscious of checking and finishing all of their work. The implications of this relate to the need for developing a classroom learning culture that encourages active rather than passive learners (Joyce et al., 2009). This type of environment also heavily lends itself to the encouragement of risk taking whilst learning in the classroom and the potential benefits this can provide students in regard to their achievement. It also aligns itself with aspects of creating a quality learning environment (NSW DET, 2003). By the end of the study most students had individually made several suggestions in their learning journals for the need to ask for help and/or ask more questions in class as a potential approach to improving aspects of their learning and achievement in Geography. This was reflected by an increase in these behaviours in the classroom (See Figure 5).

While these approaches could be considered slightly lower order and potentially more passive in nature, compared to other student responses (See figure 12), it does show an improved awareness as to their role as ‘teachers rather than students’ (Hattie, 2009). This finding also highlights the crucial importance of providing guidance to students on setting realistic and achievable targets and goals as an important aspect of quality self-assessment. This may well signify a shift in responsibility toward taking ownership of their learning. Something that is echoed by Black and Williams (1998) in their research regarding the ‘essentials’ of formative assessment, one of which, works toward greater student ownership of learning.

The findings from self-monitoring sheets also highlight student abilities to articulate learnings (awareness) and their accuracy in matching their learnings to the lesson content. These findings are useful when searching for links between improved levels of self-assessment and academic achievement. Bercher (2012) argues that accurate self-monitoring of one’s progress when learning is critical to student success and academic achievement. Bercher states that:

“Inaccurate self-monitoring can lead to false assessment of mastery, premature termination of study, overconfidence, and poor academic performance.”

Therefore according to Bercher’s (2012) study, the accuracy (matching) of student self-monitoring sheets, a skill of a self-regulated and independent learner, can positively influence test performance by providing the student with an accurate measure of their progress, and thereby, a more accurate assessment of what the student needs to do to perform satisfactorily in the test or assessment task. This adds justification to the use of self-monitoring sheets in this study. It also draws attention to the potential level of bias in students’ self-assessment (i.e. over confidence in a skill) and the subsequent impact this may have had on student test results. Students’ ability to make ‘learned’ adjustments to their own self-monitoring illustrates an establishment of self-assessment skills that will not only develop with time but may also serve as influential determinants for academic achievement across many curriculum areas and success in their future lives.

Analysis of the research design and looking to the future
While the findings regarding the effect of self-assessment on academic achievement were considered to be inconclusive they still provide a number of useful insights relevant to both student learning and teacher development. However, alterations to the current research design would prove to be beneficial for any future research.

Deficiencies in the current methodology may have had a potential influence on the results and data collected, particularly concerning the number and frequency of instruments used. One particular challenge faced by the researcher during the intervention and data analysis stages concerned the number of instruments used. The planned use of a range of self-assessment tools (i.e. monitoring sheets, end of week monitoring sheet summaries, capacity matrices, learning journal scaffolds and learning journals) proved to be too cumbersome and eventually impractical in terms of time, sequence and frequency. Future research into self-assessment practices, particularly in the case of a 9-week professional research project, would benefit from a focus on two central strategies (i.e. monitoring sheets and reflective learning journals). This would ensure the task of data implementation; collection and analysis would be more straightforward than experienced in this study.

Minor adjustments could also be made to specific instruments used within the study. Observation of student responses to self-monitoring sheets often revealed many students hastily selected all options, sometimes without regard for what they were choosing. This may have skewed some of the data. Inclusion of both positive and negative ratings may reduce this from occurring and ultimately produce a more robust set of data to analyse.

The use of scaffolding tools (i.e. reflective question prompts) of initial learning journal activities was proven to be an essential component to the development of a student’s self-assessment progress. It was powerful in keeping students focused and on track in their reflective self-assessment writing. The prompts were designed around Sadler’s (1989) three elements of feedback – the desired goal, the evidence about their present position, and some understanding of a way to close the gap. Given the importance of reflective prompts, expanding this framework further would enrich the data collected in a similar study. A greater focus on learning preferences, learning style and strategies, strengths, and areas in need of improvement, would not only provide greater benefits to the students’ self-assessment practice but also generate insights into student learning and needs. These prompts could be designed base on the following framework to encourage students to reflect on:

The knowledge they already have which might help them in a new situation in a new topic
Where have I heard about this before?
What do I already know about this topic?
The learning processes as a whole and how they engage with it
What strategies best help me to remember what I ‘ve read?
What strategies do I use when I get into difficulties?
Previous schoolwork which they can draw on in a new situation
How is this like something I’ve done before?
What can I recall about a previous process that might help me with this one?
The progress they have made
What do I understand?
What do I still need to understand?
The learning that they still need to do in order to improve performance or reach designated standards and what might help them in that learning
How can I improve?
What steps will I take?

Another important aspect that would enhance the research design relates to using individual student-teacher conferences as a way of tracking progress and providing guidance to students on setting targets and goals in other self-assessment practice. This was carried out to a limited extent during the study and may have gone a long way to developing student self-assessment practice. Time constraints were the major reason for not pursuing this more regularly. However with sufficient planning this could be implemented into a fortnightly or monthly cycle of student self-assessment.

The incorporation of higher order thinking tasks may also add to the development of student self-assessment and the eventual academic gains sought. Due to syllabus requirements the content focus of this research revolved around a stage 4 Geography topic with emphasis on developing geographical skills. Building in a greater emphasis of higher order thinking assessments and tasks would have added depth to student self-assessment, particularly in their learning journals, and created more tangible learning targets.

Self-assessment is a useful formative assessment tool that has the potential to guide and develop student learning across a range of curriculum areas. Therefore ensuring regular observations of the studied sample (class) across other curriculum areas may also enrich the findings and provide similar insights to that of McDonald and Boud’s (2003) study. The implementation of a student focused evaluative tool centred on the use, benefits and challenges of self-assessment in the classroom would be beneficial. Gaining insights into student perceptions of the overall effectiveness of self-assessment on academic achievement would also contribute greatly to the study’s findings.

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