Re-Thinking Assessment: Self- and Peer-Assessment as Drivers of Self-Direction in Learning

Prof. Dr., Dublin City University, School of Education Studies.
Doi: 10.14689/ejer.2015.60.5


Problem Statement: This paper focuses on assessment in Irish education, which, despite best intentions, shepherds students through the process to an extent that the individual is prone to undervalue her/his ability to trust in the self as a rational, self-thinking individual. In Ireland’s assessment system lies the paradox whereby from childhood the learner develops the habit of depending on ‘authority’ (teacher/examiner) to assess their work, with the expectation that the learner will graduate a self-reliant, achieving person.

Purpose: This paper shows how a step away from the traditional form of assessment, beginning at elementary school, can help redress this incongruity. Self- and peer-assessment, in a study with 523 students and their teachers, is shown to be more congruent with developing skills, attitudes and behaviour necessary to help students graduate as self-reliant and self-directed individuals.

Methods: These were from the post-positivist / phenomenological / interpretive family. The study used Action Research from the emancipatory paradigm. Concerned with experience, phenomenological analysis emerged from the interpretive paradigm. Throughout, the quantitative element added a positivist dimension which was a constant aspect, strengthening the research. In accordance with phenomenological philosophy, attention was paid to minority viewpoints, ensuring the study was inclusive and culturally sensitive.

Results and Findings: A sociological phenomenon, learning applies to all, and any theory of learning must embrace all learners, in accordance with social justice. During self- and peer-assessment, students developed skills as critical, creative thinkers, effective communicators, collaborative team workers, becoming more personally productive and effective. Their self-awareness and self-reflection increased significantly. All of these aspects are essential components of self-direction.

Conclusions and Recommendations: Self- and peer-assessment, a culturally responsive student-teacher partnership approach, serves all ages in any learning context. It is a step toward redressing the balance from dependence on the teacher/examiner to self-direction. Self- and peer-assessment is a sustainable lifelong learning methodology and needs implementing urgently at all levels of the curriculum. This will lead to a reconstruction of boundaries as learners take more control of their assessment and learning. The focus is on ‘self’, learning control and self-direction through the practice of assessing own and peer performance. Ultimately, this creative form of assessment influences, self, community and greater society.

Key Words: Self-assessment, peer-assessment, self-reliance, self-direction, culturally responsive.