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Chris Smith

Self-assessment and learning to learn

One way to encourage progress and improvement is to give pupils control over their own learning goals and assessment, says Chris Smith

Posted by Stephanie Broad | November 25, 2015 | Teaching

Identifying where children have gaps in their knowledge or understanding is a crucial concern for all schools, which is usually achieved through assessment. This can be categorised into two types: regular formative assessment used by teachers in the classroom to monitor progression, as well as supporting lesson planning, and summative assessment (for example, end-of-year tests) which allows teachers to measure attainment and see how far children have progressed between longer periods of time.

Ongoing formative assessments help to provide an accurate picture of pupils’ abilities, which is especially helpful during transition between one school and another. Any weaknesses in a child’s learning can be identified at regular intervals, allowing teachers to provide further support when necessary.

This type of assessment can also provide valuable insight into the process of meta-cognition, which is essentially how children learn how to learn. Through this, teachers can determine what teaching methods work best for their students. However, in addition, recent research has shown that children significantly benefit from being actively involved in the monitoring process.

An investigation by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Teacher Toolkit revealed that giving pupils a level of responsibility over their own learning and assessment goals can help to develop their critical thinking and meta-cognitive processes, which can provide a 38% improvement (or an effect size of 0.62) in their capacity to learn. It allows them to examine their strengths and weaknesses, as well as discover their most effective learning methods. This form of personalised, meta-cognitive learning can inspire their confidence, leading to greater improvement and success.

Establishing a coherent set of learning goals for children to work through not only ensures that all the key components of the curriculum are met, but also gives them the opportunity to set personal goals within these objectives. With our Steps progression programme, we designed subject tracking sheets, featuring a list of positive and progressive ’I can’ statements, which consider both knowledge requirements and skills, such as: ‘I can add and subtract two digit numbers mentally and when using objects, number lines and pictures.’

The most important thing is to build an attitude of positivity surrounding these learning goals. By maintaining a supportive system in which pupils have ownership and co-operate with their teachers to establish realistic targets, children will be inspired to work hard towards their next goal, even when faced with skills or topics with which they initially struggle.

By giving pupils the opportunity to see for themselves what they have achieved, and identify where they may still need to improve, you are giving them control over their own learning. This helps them to become empowered individuals, capable of entering the world as well-equipped adults, able to continually learn and evolve, applying the lessons they have learned to different situations.

It is very important for teachers to have access to the data of the children they are responsible for and information on their own class performance, so they can record and monitor the data accurately and manage their students learning accordingly. For academy trusts, this is particularly important for the purposes of monitoring progress across all schools in the organisation.

Having a comprehensive record of data is also essential during the transition from one year to the next, especially in the move from primary to secondary. By having this record of all assessments from previous teachers and ability statements from the children, teachers can be informed and assured of the capabilities and knowledge of their pupils, allowing them to plan and teach effectively.

Chris Smith is head of education technology at EES for Schools W: The free resource Steps can be downloaded from

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