When teachers feed kids all the “right answers,” we rob them the joy of discovery. When teachers give kids strict outlines of what an “A” looks like, we make them fearful to risk trying something a new way. And when teachers make grades the sole reason for work, we steal from students the internal motivation to create.
After our last set of class projects, I let the kids grade their own work with little help from me. Each student had to self-reflect on their assignment and then defend their grade. In general, students gave themselves fair assessments. A few kids were overly critical of their own work, which led to discussions about mistakes being okay when creating. In fact, true learning often comes from failure to do something right the first time. On the flip side, a few kids were too ready to give themselves an A, without reasons to support the grade. For those students, we had talks about how to look at your own work with fresh eyes. Overall, I felt students were accurate in their self-assessments, and I valued the thoughts they recorded about their work. With rare exception, students received the grade they requested for themselves.
Self-reflection is a powerful skill. As a teacher, I constantly think about how things can be better for the next group. I don’t wait for somebody else to tell me how to improve my lessons; I do it for myself. As teachers work to make kids more independent thinkers, we need to give them the tools to self-evaluate. Helping students share their thoughts about their work is important. Educators need to equip students to be self-reliant learners and risk-takers, because they deserve chances to create and reflect about the things they produce without fear of the final grade.