Educators are increasingly understanding the need to include students of all abilities in mainstream education. In this article, Betty McDonald demonstrates how self assessment can promote inclusion. She presents some of her findings from studying her work with secondary school and college students in The Bahamas.
- The Bahamas is an archipelago of 700 islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, with a total population of 301,790. Its central democratic government is stable, with a ‘no income tax’ and liberal trade policy. Tourism is the main source of income. Education is mandatory for 5-14-year-olds, and is provided by public and private schools.
Self assessment is ‘the involvement of students in identifying standards and/or criteria to apply to their work and making judgements about the extent to which they have met these criteria and standards‘.*
To implement self assessment, my students meet in pairs to discuss the standards and/or criteria they should use for judging a piece of work or performance. This may be done in any subject area, from Dance to Mathematics. I give them guidelines of what is acceptable and unacceptable. I facilitate, encourage and suggest, but I do not direct or give orders.
The students are always interacting with tourists and so they are articulate. They ask me questions and make suggestions about the assessment process, and we hold group discussions. Through these interactions, I provide additional information and we create an inclusive environment where all students feel loved, respected and accepted. I act as a role model, using my initiative to invent active learning methods. In this way students begin to appreciate experience-sharing and problem-solving, which are at the heart of inclusive education.
Once they agree about the assessment standards/criteria, pairs of students interact with other pairs, and this is repeated until there is consensus across the class. Students then use the standards/criteria to evaluate performance. To do this, they engage each other in conversation, wait their turn to speak, actively listen to and critique each other, and provide feedback. Active classroom observation and non-written ways of observing and participating become the norm. Self assessment like this can also happen in the playground, laboratory, public places, etc.
Students complete a form on the front of their assignments, which they use to highlight areas for personal improvement. After each assignment they voluntarily discuss with each other their errors and how they will prevent a reoccurrence. This lays the ground work for improved standards.
Individual students feel included in decision-making through their active participation in the assessment process. They know their views are taken seriously. Shared decision-making promotes shared responsibility and ownership; both essential for inclusion. Diversity – an inevitable offshoot of tourism in The Bahamas – is celebrated rather than tolerated.
Visually and hearing impaired students in my class are given space to participate while others support them, for example by recording the information. Students who are slow at understanding have the opportunity to keep pace with others. The supportive environment means that no one is stigmatised for being ‘different’. Our communication ‘ground rules’ stop extrovert students from smothering quieter students, and I am on hand to advise or intervene if required.
Students from comparatively impoverished backgrounds feel welcome as equal partners in the classroom, instead of feeling ostracised as they may do in the community. Working closely with other students in one-on-one discussions also helps students with behavioural problems to experience and develop more ‘acceptable’ behaviour. Using these co-operative approaches makes it easier and quicker for me to identify and address impairments, emotional stress or related conditions in classrooms.
Creating standards and/or criteria as a joint activity fosters a sense of networking and togetherness that is necessary for an inclusive environment.
Self assessment promotes reflection, introspection, creative and divergent thinking. My students have to negotiate to reach mutual agreement. The process assists less-able students, who now have opportunities for more input into an activity than they would in a more traditional classroom. At-risk groups find solace in a group focused on interaction and mutual agreement. Students tend to question exclusion. They break stereotypes and segregation and promote an inclusive education system from which all can benefit.
Dr. Betty McDonald is a professor at The University of The Bahamas, which is gradually introducing self assessment more widely. Her main research interests are educational measurement, assessment, mathematics education and applied statistics. She has published widely in education journals. Contact:
University of the Bahamas
P.O. Box F42766
Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Boud, D. (1986) Implementing Student Self Assessment, Sydney: HERDSA