Involving learners actively in assessment

Student involvement and responsibility for learning are key elements of formative assessment. Student involvement can be enhanced in a number of ways, in particular through activities which develop students' skills in ongoing self-monitoring and reflection. EAL learners can benefit greatly by becoming more active participants through structured self assessment and peer evaluation.

To what extent do you use self and peer assessment? What are some of your concerns and problems?


  • How does involving students in assessment help them learn how to learn?
  • How comfortable are you about shifting responsibility for assessment to the learners?
  • How can you increase students' confidence so they don’t constantly ask you or their peers to validate their judgements?
  • What strategies might you use if a student resists being involved in self or peer assessment?
  • Why do open-ended assessment tasks encourage self and peer assessment?

Self and peer assessment are critically important for helping EAL students learn.

Click below to view Prof Dylan Wiliam talking about the importance of self and peer assessment:

 In this video, Professor Wiliam mentions "2 stars and a wish". Click here for the stars and a wish feedback form

Whenever possible students should be encouraged to keep records of their own assessments. They can use these records to regularly review their progress, to monitor and evaluate their strengths and to identify areas which have improved or still need improvement. Students can keep oral assessments on their own digital device and listen to or watch themselves, to undertake some self-evaluation. The samples can also be used by students with the class, by taking turns to show / play their own oral language samples and inviting others in the class to give comments on their performance.



Peer assessment is important because it helps students become familiar with the standard they are striving to accomplish as well as increasing responsibility for their own learning. Use student-oriented criteria so that judgements are expressed using objective language which is readily understood.

For students who have just begun learning English and who are not yet confident in expressing opinions,using symbols to gather assessment information works well. Smiley faces, thumbs up, traffic lights, question marks, ticks and marking a point on a continuous scale all signal judgements of quality without linguistic demands. Graphic organisers such as success ladders are also useful for early stage students, who rank the skills they feel need most work on the lower rungs and the skills they feel most confident at the top. Simple flow charts can be used to indicate the order in which tasks are completed and symbols added to show how students assess their achievement. As students become more fluent in English, simple students-oriented self and peer assessments can work well, as in this template for a self evaluation of a group interaction.

EAL learners benefit from being grouped with other learners whose primary language is English and also with learners of mixed language proficiency. Grouping by language proficiency limits opportunities to extend language, negotiate, bridge communication gaps and generate evidence of critical rather than literal thinking. The more engaged students are in the real world of learning the less they worry about the linguistic challenges.

Advantages of self and peer assessment

  1. Peer assessment works especially well when students are working in a small group. Each student knows his/her contribution will be assessed by the group members, so all members are more likely to pull their weight and be actively involved in preparation and presentation.
  2. Students can reflect on their own contribution to group work. If they know this will be shared with the group they will focus realistically on the value of their contribution.
  3. Increased independence means mistakes can be corrected and quality of work be improved. Students are more likely to take risks and have another go at a task if they make this choice for themselves. By reducing fear of failure, students feel more secure.
  4. Students, especially EAL learners, recognise that others are having the same or similar problems. By reflecting on areas in which others need to improve their language skills, attention is drawn away from content knowledge and students can concentrate on how ideas are being presented and how well messages are communicated.
  5. Comments can be expressed as symbols, statements or questions. Asking questions of a peer can lead to self-questioning and deeper analytical thinking about the standard of their own work. Students also learn from their partner’s responses to the questions they have asked.

Look at the following example of a teacher setting up peer assessment for a group of EAL students.  Notice how she scaffolds and supports their interactions.

  1. Why do you think students internalise success criteria better when they are evaluating someone else’s work rather than their own?
  2. Why do you think students can be tougher on themselves and on each other than their teacher would be?
  3. How would you organise students into peer assessment groups? Would you group them according to speaking ability, other abilities or confidence? What benefits are there from grouping students with a mix of abilities?

In Tight but Loose: a conceptual framework for scaling up school reforms (2007, 56 pages), Wiliam and Thompson point out the advantages of setting up teacher-learning communities at school level, to help teachers to enhance their assessment literacy. (Source: Dylan Wiliam's web site).

In the Reliability, validity and usability of assessment, published in Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation (2006), Ross reviews research evidence on student self assessment and talks about issues of reliability, validity and utility. The findings are that

  • consistent results can be obtained
  • extra information which the teacher cannot assess herself can be gathered
  • self assessment contributes to improved achievement and behaviour
  • the strength of self assessment can be enhanced by training students in the use of success criteria, and the weaknesses can be reduced by teacher action.

See Prof. Dylan Wiliam talking about the benefits of self and peer assessment – benefits for the student doing the assessment and for the student giving feedback. 

See Dr Paul Black discussing the value of self and peer assessment. He sees peer and self assessment as opportunities for students to use authentic, meaningful language as they articulate and support their points of view.

Find out what your students think of peer assessment by conducting this questionnaire. Then plan a peer assessment activity and evaluate it with them.

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