A lesson in self-assessment


Assessment, sigh! When I was in school, every Monday was a test day! My father would wake up at 4 am every Monday to wake me up and ensure that I held a book in front of me. Every Monday I would go to school hoping not to forget “what I had read”.

ulta-assessment-1 Life was lovely in the weeks that I got 80 per cent or more, my parents would pat my back and say, “Good job, beta”. If I ended up getting below 80 per cent, I got some different looks. The teachers in school, through their actions, would make me believe that I was not as good as some of the other children in school. I still remember one uncle saying, “Why can’t you be the topper? Isn’t the current topper not eating the same food as you?”

When I google the term or ask people what they think is the purpose of assessment, they say emphatically, “The purpose of assessment is to improve learning for children.”

But did those ‘Monday’ tests make any difference to my learning? Well, it certainly must have assured my parents and school. But did anybody care, if I remembered the same knowledge two days after the test or if I learnt any better ways to apply the knowledge I had gained?

My journey as a father took me to Aarohi where I stayed in the campus for four days in June this year to understand how they do all this ulta pulta – no facilitator to assess, no tests, no corrections, no competition, etc. I wondered how children assessed their learning, weaknesses, strengths and so on.

I was asked to join them, not as an adult, but as a child. During breakfast everybody shared their plan for the day. We all had the liberty to plan what we wished to do.

I took up poetry writing (in hindi) as my goal for the day and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I must say that when I have a goal of “doing something” like writing a poem or making a treehouse (some children had this as their goal), personal assessment happens almost instantly: questions like these start buzzing in the mind: “Am I satisfied with what I am doing? How can I make it better? When you observe yourself, you clearly know whether you are in a challenge zone or in a comfort zone”.

ulta-assessment-2 I can also relate this to the safety club that I observed a day before. Children, in groups, took up different safety related challenges that existed at the campus – some worked on fire, some on self-defence, some researched on how they should respond if they spotted a snake, and so on. Since all these were real life situations, learning was more meaningful and children could assess their approaches – whether what they were doing was enough or not and enrich their learning instantly by researching/thinking further.

We all gathered together every evening for reflection. I learnt from the children that every week they reflected in a different way. When I was there, we were asked to identify five words that summed up our day. All of us spent ten minutes in silence trying to gather our thoughts. Then, the children spoke one by one.

Child 1: “My first word is “easy”, many a time I see videos on self-defence and think that it is very easy but when I try to do it, it feels difficult. Next word is “planning” – I am trying to do my planning in lots and lots of different ways and I want to find out which one is more fun for me.” And it continued…

Child 2: “My first word is “dance” – while dancing, I used my body a lot, I was throwing my body to the wind while dancing. My next word is “story making” – when I started story making, it looked very easy but when I started to compose the story, I was not getting any word, later I was thinking that if I had looked up in the dictionary I would have got some words that I could have used in my story……”

Child 3: “My first word is “objective” – I did not learn anything new about objective but I am looking forward to use the “objective”. My second word is “safety” – in the safety lab, I realized that in my own domain, like the area that I am personally working on – like fire, I am very confident that I can handle it when it happens but in other areas – like snake and all, if it actually happens, I do not feel so confident.”

And the reflection continued……..

As I reflect on these evening reflections, I realize that

  • When I see children self-reflecting, everything that they say seem to be meaningful to them. The children were trying to challenge themselves, understand and plan their own learning needs.
  • When I learn by DOING things, my assessment is happening instantly. I learn as I do and I know how well I am doing, nobody needs to judge me expect myself.
  • When I learn to judge my own actions, I do not learn for marks, I learn for my own life. The practice of assessment stays with me life long and not just in school.
  • When I learn to observe myself, I am aware as a person of my thoughts, my beliefs, my feelings, my motivation, and my actions.

This to me was a completely different world of self-assessment. How powerful – you decide!


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