The Best Self-Assessment Questions for Encouraging a Growth Mindset

by | Dec 6, 2017

There is no topic in education that is more furiously debated than assessment. Of course, self-assessment tends to raise even more alarm bells. The notion of students assessing themselves is difficult for many educators to get around, but they’re warming to the idea. If our students learn to ask the right self-assessment questions and keep themselves accountable, the results in learning improvement can be amazing.

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Self-assessment carries a number of benefits for both students and teachers. Here are just a few of them:

  • It encourages students to take more responsibility for learning.
  • Self-assessment is a highly effective critical thinking exercise.
  • Students are usually frank and honest in their assessment of their own performance and that of their peers.
  • It reduces the assessment workload on the teacher.
  • It promotes deep understanding of content topics and learning styles.
  • Self-assessment lets students consider their decisions, reflect on actions, and consider/plan future processes.

This infographic by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D. is from the article Growth Mindset: Personal Accountability and Reflection. It beautifully sums up the process of using self-assessment for developing the growth mindset. Moreover, it couples so well with the formative assessment tools we’ve discussed in the past that we wanted to expand a little bit on each point.

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Self-Assessment Questions for Guaranteed Growth

As we consider each of these self-assessment questions, obviously the best answer is “Yes.” However, if it’s “No,” we want to understand why.

1. Did I work as hard as I could have? No? Why?

Was it a lack of energy?

  • Taking care of oneself is crucial to a well-functioning brain. This can be done through a healthy diet or daily exercise and a good night’s sleep.

Were you stuck?

  • Was it information that you didn’t have in order to get unstuck?

2. Did I set and maintain high standards for myself? No? Why?

Lack of vision?

  • You have to know where you want to go and how far you want to reach. You can’t hit a target you can’t see, so begin by dreaming big.

Lack of worthy examples?

  • What similar great works inspire you? What standards did their creators set for themselves? Seek inspiration.

Did you begin the work with, “Oh, this is going to be impossible!” or “We’re going to rock this thing!”

  • The attitude and self-fulfilling language that you begin with is so important. The language that you use to begin determines the path that you ultimately take.

What motivates you?

  • Which seems more favourable to you: the pain of effort and discipline or the pain of regret? The payoff is huge, especially for your confidence, if you are proud of your efforts as opposed to putting forth little effort and feeling like you wasted a lot of time.

3. Did I spend enough time to do quality work? No? Why?

Perceived there was not enough time?

  • Many students are given a time limit to produce something, so it’s important to do some scheduling of important tasks. The less time you give to complete a task, the more the quality suffers. You’ll have to sacrifice other less important activities if you’re not finding enough time to reach great quality.

Lack of efficiency?

  • Those who can do great work in little time are efficient. Using time efficiently is a skill that is acquired over time. It takes practice and discipline to learn how to use your time wisely. It’s about muscle memory, but it’s also your brain getting used to firing the right neurons.
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4. Did I regulate my procrastination, distractions, and temptations in order to complete my work? No? Why?

There are other things I need to do.

  • Prioritize. Make a schedule. Stick to it. Adjust the schedule over days until you get the right balance.

I reach a mind fog and have to stop for a while.

  • Everyone needs breaks. Only a skilled time manager can withstand the temptation to get lost in their breaks and never come back. Plan your breaks and really take them. Don’t go to the teacher’s lounge and start talking shop. Really get away from the task. It’s funny how it works out that when you let something sink into your subconscious and gestate you come back with better ideas.

I did my break and lost track of the time.

  • Deciding on a time limit for yourself for clearing the brain can help keep you focused on your target. Get a timer and be sure to use it. These apps that focus on the Pomodoro technique are great ones to look at, along with this one available for Mac users.

5. Did I make good use of available resources? No? Why?

I didn’t know what was available.

  • Resources are tools that you use to reach your goal. This means information, apps, people, equipment, and so on. Begin your work by assessing what resources are available to you. Sometimes you get stuck and forget a particular resource that can give you that nudge to keep going. Our greatest resource is people whether you ask for help through the Internet, phone, or in person.

I didn’t know how to use a resource or the resource I was trying to use was too complicated.

  • Sometimes a particular app or tool requires a steep learning curve, and at some point you have to decide if you’re wasting too much time trying to learn it. You could be getting too caught up in the bells and whistles to the point where it takes away valuable work time. If you’re in the midst of a project, you might want to outsource that part of the project or go back to good old pen and paper. If you’re not in the midst of a project, take a tutorial in the use of the tool and have it ready for next time.

6. Did I ask questions if I needed help? No? Why?

I thought my question was going to sound stupid.

  • As the old saying goes, the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. If you’re embarrassed to ask out loud, ask in private.

The teacher was too busy.

  • Remember the teacher is not the only resource available, so be relentless until you get the reliable information that you need. Asking the right questions from the beginning can prevent misunderstanding in the long run. And remember: clarify, clarify, clarify!

I wanted to do it all myself.

  • The fear of collaboration (yeah, that’s actually a thing) can be a stumbling block to greatness. Do you realize that some of the world’s most successful people are that way because they aligned themselves with the right people?
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7. Did I review and re-review my work for possible errors? No? Why?

I procrastinated and just wanted to turn it in.

  • This often happens, so next time we have to be proactive and nip the situation in the bud. Your timeline for completion should always allow for a review process. Have a finished product ready well before the deadline in order to let you or others do reviews and edits.

I fear the review process because I get stuck reviewing my work over and over again to the point where I don’t get anything done. I’m a perfectionist.

  • Don’t get caught up in an obsessive loop. You might need to take a break first, then come back to your work in a fresh state of mind. Or you can “toss the ball” to a team-mate, colleague, or supervisor for review and editing. You must never be afraid to ask for help if you genuinely need it.

8. Did I examine best practices for similar work? No? Why?

There were none available.

  • The right Internet searches will most surely bring up examples. Even if you don’t find good examples, you can work to make something better.

I don’t want to copy.

  • Certainly there’s a distinction between using other’s works for inspiration and outright plagiarism. Jazz musicians can spend hours copying a solo of their favourite artist note-for-note. They then use this “vocabulary” to formulate their own style. Who do you gain inspiration from and who are you are trying to emulate? Look at their greatest works, strive for that kind of quality. Maybe it won’t come this time, but keep looking for great examples to keep those creative juices flowing.

9. Is my work something for which I am proud—that I would proudly show to a large, global audience? No? Why?

Time ran out.

  • Let it go, hand it in, and take your lumps. The greatest successes are preceded by failures. Certainly we try to avoid failures, but what can we do? We pick ourselves up and keep going, and learn from it.

My team mates let me down.

  • In a situation like this (or any other, for that matter), the absolute worse thing you can do is lay blame. Part of effective collaboration is in mastering accountability and self-management. Your teammates aren’t there to hold your hand or do your work for you. If it’s important to you, you will lead and learn how to bring out the best in your team. It all comes down to this: when your team-mate drops the ball, do you stand there and chastise them, or do you help them back up and keep going together?

We must always strive to achieve a “Yes” answer for each of these self-assessment questions. That said, remain aware of the fine balance between perfectionism and OCD. You know those great artistic works that inspire millions? We don’t see the countless failures that got them there.

It’s important to keep in mind that these self-assessment questions are intended to stimulate personal growth. Mastery of these ideals won’t come in a day for the average person. If you’re not at the point where you want to be, try again the next day.

Additional Reading




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