Many students may not be actively aware of how they learn, or that they can actually self-evaluate while learning. Having interacted with numerous students over the years, we observed a rather worrying trend. Some students believe that learning is a one-way activity. The teacher speaks, while the student simply listens. They complete tasks that are assigned to them without taking a step back for self-evaluation.
This approach could have worked well for traditional learning. However, education has greatly evolved over the years. Today, learning is more than just grasping theoretical concepts and passing the examinations. Students need to be more actively involved in their own learning.
What is active learning, and how can you self-evaluate?
Active learning is a modern strategy which teachers adopt to help students develop their higher-order thinking skills. It places a balanced emphasis on the core content, as well as the learning process.
To ensure the effectiveness of active learning, students have to make the effort to self-evaluate and reflect. Reflection can take place orally, in writing, or be in the form of an artistic output. It can even be done in modern ways such as writing a blog or recording a podcast. With so many options available, there is always a form of self-evaluation that suits you.
In this article, we will explain more about active learning and its benefits. We will also discuss how self-evaluation can make you realise that there is so much more which you can gain while learning. We will describe a four-step cycle to help you self-evaluate. Finally, we will cover some activities – both inside and outside of the classroom – which you can do to self-evaluate.
How Active Learning Has Transformed Education
In the past, teachers expected students to be well-behaved – sitting in the wooden chair and listening intently to them. Students were made to memorise and absorb everything which the teacher chalked on the blackboard. And during the examinations, students were seen scribbling whatever they have “learnt” to fill the page. Self-evaluation did not even exist back then.
Fortunately, students of today do not have to endure this type of regurgitative learning. Teachers are now more aware that students need to move, talk and discover knowledge by themselves. Teachers have learnt that every student is unique in their own ways and learns differently from one another. It is really about getting students to be part of the learning experience.
By keeping their students engaged during every lesson, teachers can impart critical thinking skills along the way. With these modern-day skills, students are learning how to learn better. Students also get the opportunity to reflect on their learning. After some time, reflection goes on autopilot and becomes what we call ‘self-evaluation’.
Active Learning in Today’s Classroom
Do you feel more excited or involved when you talk to your classmates about what you are learning? How about being able to move around the classroom or stretch your body every now and then? Or performing in front of everyone in class? Active learning is one of the reasons why school has become more fun and enjoyable these days.
Active learning is an avenue for you to contribute to your own learning. That is why teachers would sometimes ask you for ideas on how you would want to do certain activities. Since the ideas came from you and your peers, chances are that you will be more eager to participate actively. And more importantly, the activities would appear to be more interesting as you had a role in designing it.
When you are actively engaged in learning, you will find it easier to gain a more comprehensive understanding of things. As you explore or prove concepts on your own through various activities, you’ll get to appreciate them from a whole new perspective. When you solve a problem by yourself or collaborate with your classmates, your higher-order thinking skills are being strengthened.
Self-Evaluation as a Higher-Order Thinking Skill
Higher-order thinking skills such as analysing, evaluating and creating are essential skills that every student must have in order to succeed. They prepare you for unforeseen challenges which you may face in your future studies and career. And the most ideal time to acquire these skills is during your formative years in school.
When practising active learning in the classroom, we should not just review what we have learnt, but also how we have learnt. Evaluating our own learning can be seen as an important building block for the development of our self-evaluation skills.
Reflection is the Key for Self-Evaluation
Self-evaluation helps you to not only assess what you are learning, but also the learning skills that you have picked up along the way. While another person (such as your parents or teachers) can help you with the assessment, they may not be able to provide you with the most accurate picture of your self-development.
Don’t forget – you know yourself best, so you are the most qualified person to assess yourself. You are familiar with your learning style and the study habits that work for you. You know what kind of activities can help you to learn more effectively.
But let’s just say that parents and teachers can supplement your self-evaluation. They can guide you along, point out anything which you may have missed, and provide an independent second opinion. Seeking external perspectives and feedback is always a good way to improve yourself.
How do I Self-Evaluate?
We adopt a four-step cycle for self-evaluation. Start by reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses. Improve on your weaknesses, and at the same time, make your strengths even better than before. Finally, review what had worked for you and repeat the entire process again.
Step 1: Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses
The main driving force of self-evaluation is continuous reflection. In this step, you look back at your successful and not-so-successful moments in life to identify your strengths and weaknesses. But if we were to ask you to sit down and write down your top ten strengths and weaknesses, it would be a rather challenging thing to do.
Instead, observe your daily life and note down any encounters and decisions which you make. How did these small decisions lead you to success? Is there anything which you could have done better to improve or change the outcome?
For example, when giving your input whenever the teacher asks the class to propose a learning activity, reflection is taking place. You are already thinking and suggesting what you are good at. Also, chances are that you are avoiding activities that do not work for you. Make a mental or physical note of that before you move on to the next step.
If you find it difficult to identify your strengths and weaknesses, seek some honest feedback from your parents or teachers. You can even get peer feedback from your classmates if you have been working together in group projects.
Reflection should take place whenever you have the chance to do so. It makes you more aware of your abilities, and can help you to improve your performance. Remember that reflection can take place in various forms, from deep thinking to writing in a journal.
Step 2: Take action on your weaknesses
In the previous step, you would have identified some areas which you can improve on. But first, we have to make it clear that everyone has things which they are not so good at. As a student, you should never be afraid to face your weaknesses or even ignore them altogether. You do not need to be 100% perfect, but always work towards a better version of yourself.
One common mistake which many students make is trying to address their weaknesses all at once. Just like multitasking, this approach does not work well for the majority of the population. Instead, students should choose the most important areas to focus on improving at any point in time. In particular, pay extra attention to those that can limit your achievements. Stick to a small handful – perhaps a number that you can count with one hand. Now, dive into it straight away!
You can also get some guidance from your parents, teachers or a trusted friend. Changing your old habits may not be the easiest thing to do. It will take you some time before you see some results. When taking action to improve on your weaknesses, you should set yourself a specific target. And when you achieve that target, take some time off to celebrate your achievement.
Step 3: Build upon your strengths
One school of thought is that spending more time on developing your strengths is far better than trying hard to work on your weaknesses. People who see things from this perspective will say that your strengths make you unique.
You are much better at doing certain things compared to the people around you. When people notice your strengths, they will start approaching you for help in those areas. Your strengths and talents add value not just to yourself, but also to others. Likewise, don’t be afraid to get help from others, especially in your weaker areas.
Building your unique strengths is one of the most desired outcomes of self-evaluation. Find out what are the ways you can stretch your strengths to the limit. How can you apply your strengths in a new and different way? Are there any complementary skills which you should develop to further optimise your strengths?
Building upon your existing strengths is important. But don’t forget to discover new strengths that may emerge over time. Also, don’t ignore your weaknesses completely either. Working on your weaknesses helps you to lay a solid foundation upon which you can build your strengths.
Step 4: Review, refine and repeat
Reflection and self-evaluation can be especially effective when you take notes (e.g. by typing or drawing) to monitor your progress. You can do it after completing an activity, after finishing a test or at the end of a study session. You can see a clearer picture of what you know about yourself and the follow-up actions which you can take.
As time goes by, take a few moments to compare your present self to what you were before. Pull out your self-evaluation notes for a review, and see how you have changed and how you have grown. Knowing how you turned your weaknesses into strengths can serve as an inspiration to your future self.
If some of your efforts did not show any useful results, you may want to refine your approach. How else can you work on your weaknesses? Can you develop strengths in areas that can compensate for those stubborn weaknesses that won’t seem to go away?
At this point, it is also a good time to ask yourself what you want to learn further. More importantly, you will need to have the initiative to do it. Learning new skills helps you to enhance the new knowledge that you acquire along the way. Start working on them at the earliest possible opportunity.
Self-evaluation is a continuous process that takes place throughout your lifetime. More accurately, it can be seen as a cycle as you keep improving yourself. Self-evaluation doesn’t stop here, so go back to the first step every once in a while and go through each step again. You’ll notice yourself getting better at self-evaluation each time you do this.
Interesting Ways to Reflect and Self-Evaluate
Self-Evaluation in the Classroom
There are many ways for self-evaluation and reflection to take place in a classroom setting. One of the ways that have become popular recently is creating a KWL chart (Know / Want-to-know / Learnt).
Together with your classmates, divide a piece of paper into three columns (which represent K, W and L). In the leftmost column (K), brainstorm and write down what you already know based on prior knowledge. In the middle column (W), discuss and write down the things that you want to know better or in greater detail. In the rightmost column (L), you fill in the knowledge which you have gained after the activity.
You can ask your teacher for some space in the classroom where everyone can write down their reflections. It can spark conversations and lead to further brainstorming or healthy debate.
In an active learning classroom, students should be given the chance to speak aloud when participating in the activities. For example, they can express their views on the activity, and how it helps or affects them. How can the activity be improved the next time to help you learn more effectively? If you missed the chance to answer your teacher’s questions in class, you can still reflect on your own.
Whenever you are learning something new, your brain is forming a connection between the new concept and your existing knowledge. When you are aware of your weaknesses, you can change the way you learn. This helps you to grasp the new concepts better.
Here are some examples of how you can adapt your learning style. If you are not good at remembering things, write them down so that you have something to refer to. If you are not good with directions, sketch something that can help you to visualise better.
Self-Evaluation Beyond the Classroom
Active learning has to extend beyond the classroom. While teachers may encourage the adoption of active learning habits in class, students should make a conscious effort to apply them to their daily lives. Students must also learn how to do self-evaluation and be more aware of how they learn.
If you are finding it difficult to form sentences or articulate yourself, you can try using “sentence stem-based responses”. The prompts serve as a good starting point to kick start your thinking process. Using a template makes it easier for you to express your thoughts in words.
Technology has made it easier for us to keep track of our self-evaluation, and to get others involved. We can self-evaluate in many different ways. For example, writing a blog or an online journal is one of the modern ways to self-evaluate. Alternatively, recording a podcast or a video clip can be a great way to let your creative juices flow.
Social media is also another avenue for you to communicate your reflection and self-evaluation. You can share your thoughts with other people, and get them to interact with you to gain new perspectives. However, be careful and be aware of what you are posting online. Your emotions may take over, and you don’t want to end up posting something that you will regret later on.
Keeping a portfolio where you can store your best work is another excellent way to self-evaluate. A portfolio allows you to visualise your shortcomings and your progress at a glance. Start with a simple folder or a fancy envelope. It can even be digital – there are many websites where you can create an online portfolio for free.
Reflection and Self-Evaluation
There are a lot of reasons for you to reflect and self-evaluate. And there are also a lot of different ways for you to do so. It doesn’t matter which method you choose. The important thing is the concrete actions that you take after you reflect and self-evaluate.
Reflection and self-evaluation are highly relevant in the active learning world we live in today. Both are necessary for your growth and development. Reflection takes you back to your experiences and behaviour. Self-evaluation makes use of the reflection to help you learn and improve on your performance. It also helps you to take control of your own learning, and leads you towards your long-term goals.
When is the best time to reflect? Some people may find it beneficial to do a reflection right after each activity. Hopefully, your teacher wouldn’t mind if you spend a minute or two to reflect and write down your thoughts. Some people prefer to do it at night before going to sleep. They end the day by spending a few moments to self-reflect in the quietness of their bedroom. You can reflect at any time of the day. Just be consistent so that it becomes part of your routine.
Who can self-evaluate? Everybody can self-evaluate as part of active learning, from young preschoolers to students and working adults. Parents should encourage their children to self-evaluate. For younger children, drawing can be used in place of writing, in order to help them express their thoughts. By using the right questions, prompts and constant practice, children can be taught to self-evaluate from a young age.