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Using Self-Assessment in the Classroom:   Rationale and Suggested Techniques

by Christine Coombe, Higher Colleges of Technology, United Arab Emirates
& Christine Canning, ADMC - Higher College of Technology, United Arab Emirates

1.      Introduction

During the last 10 years there has been a surge of interest in self-assessment methodologies in foreign/second language education.  Work has been undertaken in many parts of the world and several reports on the theoretical and practical implications of using self-assessment techniques have emerged (see Oscarsson 1997). 

This article outlines the rationale for using self-assessment techniques in language teaching, learning and assessment and presents some practical ideas that illustrate the many developments taking place.

2.      Why use self-assessment?

According to Blue (1994), interest in self-assessment developed out of a more general interest in the area of autonomous learning or learner independence.   However, it has been seen as one of the more problematic areas of self-directed learning.  It is widely recognized that learners might not have the necessary experience to make judgements of this sort.  Despite these criticisms, there are a number of reasons why self-assessment should be encouraged in language classes. 

Mats Oscarsson (1989), a noted scholar in the field of self-assessment, gives six different reasons why self-assessment can be beneficial to language learning.  First, he stresses that self-assessment promotes learning, plain and simple.  It gives learners training in evaluation which results in benefits to the learning process.  Secondly, it gives both students and teachers a raised level of awareness of perceived levels of abilities.   Training in self-assessment, even in its simplest form, like asking “What have I been learning?” encourages learners to look at course content in a more discerning way.  Thirdly, it is highly motivating in terms of goal-orientation.  Fourth, through the use of self-assessment methodologies, the range of assessment techniques is expanded in the classroom.  As a result of using self-assessment, the learner broadens’ his/her range of experience within the realm of assessment.  Fifth, by practicing self-assessment, the students participate in their own evaluation (Dickinson 1987).  They, in effect, share the assessment burden with the teacher.  Finally, by successfully involving students in their own assessment, beneficial post-course effects will ensue.

3.      Self-Assessment Techniques and Procedures

In spite of the criticisms leveled against self-assessment in terms of validity and reliability, educators have successfully used the following self-assessment techniques and procedures in the classroom.

3.1      Student Progress Cards

Oscarsson (1984) describes student progress cards as simple self-assessment tools which have been used in a variety of educational settings around the world.   Quite simply, student progress cards define series of short-term functional goals and group these together in graded blocks at various levels of difficulty.  Both students and teachers can participate in this activity.  The student can tick off (in the learner column) each language skill or activity that he/she is sure of performing successfully.  The teacher can later tick off (in the teacher column) the activity once the learner has mastered it.  A sample activity follows:





Read and understand texts on a travel theme.



Listen and understand passages on a travel theme.



Talk about past and future trips or holidays.



Write an itinerary for an upcoming vacation.




3.2      Rating Scales, Check lists and Questionnaires

A popular technique in the area of self-assessment has been the use of rating scales, check lists and questionnaires.  These three techniques have been used as a means where learners could rate their perceived general language proficiency or ability level.  A lot of developmental work has been done in this area through the use of “ability statements” such as “I can read and understand newspaper articles intended for native speakers of the language.”  (Coombe 1992; Oscarsson 1984).

Consider the following listening example taken from Raasch (1979). To complete the activity, the learner indicates his estimated ability to cope with situations by ticking the described level of performance.  


I understand the language as well as a native speaker.






I understand most of what is said in the language even when spoken by native speakers, but have difficulty in understanding dialects and slang.  It is also difficult for me to understand speech in unfavorable conditions (i.e. through bad loudspeakers outdoors etc.)






I can follow and understand the essential points concerning everyday and general things when spoken normally and clearly, but do not understand native speakers if they speak very quickly or use slang or dialect.


  I do not understand the language at all.



3.3      Learner Diaries and Dialog Journals

Learner diaries and dialog journals have been proposed as one way of systematizing self-assessment for students (Oscarsson 1984; Dickinson 1987).  Learners should be encouraged to write about what they learned, their perceived level of mastery over the course content, and what they plan to do with their acquired skills. 

3.4      Videotapes

In today’s technological age, no other audiovisual aid can match the potential of the video recorder.  Video can be exploited in a number of ways to encourage self-assessment in the classroom.  For example, students can be videotaped or they can videotape each other and then assess their language skills.  An obvious advantage to the use of video in self-assessment is that students can assess not only their communicative or language skills but their paralinguistic (i.e. body language) skills as well. 

4.      Conclusion

To summarize, there are a number of benefits to using self-assessment in the classroom.  It allows students to map their knowledge of the language at various points within a course and/or semester.   It also assists students in the development of critical faculties.  Self-assessment also enables students to look at language in more concrete terms.  Through the use of the techniques mentioned in this article, self-assessment motivates students to look at their strengths and weaknesses and become more autonomous learners which is a fundamental part of the learning process.


Blue, G. (1994).   Self-assessment of Foreign Language Skills:   Does it Work?  CLE Working Papers. N. 3 p. 18-35 (ED 396 569.

Coombe, C. (1992) The Relationship Between Self-assessment Estimates of Functional Literacy Skills and Basic English Skills Test Results in Adult Refugee ESL Learners.  Ph.D. Diss. The Ohio State University.

Dickinson, L. (1987). Self-Instruction in Language Learning.  Cambridge:  CUP.

Oscarsson, M. (1984).   Self-Assessment of Foreign Language Skills:  A Survey of Research and Development Work.  Strasbourg:  Council of Europe.

Oscarsson, M. (1997) “Self-Assessment of Foreign and Second Language Proficiency”.  In The Encyclopedia of Language and Education, Vol. 7.  Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp 175-187.

Oscarsson, M. (1998).   “Learner Self-Assessment of Language Skills”.  IATEFL TEA SIG Newsletter, Nov. 1998.

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