Teaching Students about Self-Assessment in the Arts

Introduce young artists to the process of self-assessment through observation and reflection


Artists rarely present their first sketches as the final product. Rather, art is made through experimentation and editing. Reflection and revision drive the process. History is littered with sketches and drafts of noted artists’ early stages of their work.

Researchers and educators agree that self-assessment is a necessary and important component of quality classroom arts assessment. Self-assessment is authentic assessment—it mirrors the “real-world” work done by professional artists. Student self-assessments can take many forms and are typically formative assessment. Journals, recordings, sketches, and discussions are a few of the available tools.

Steps in the Process  
Eric Booth, in his book The Everyday Work of Art, notes that as part of the creative process, artists will first observe and then make judgments and provide interpretations. Observation is the crucial first step. The book Studio Thinking documents a two-step process in student reflection. “Learning to reflect” is one of the habits cultivated in strong visual arts classrooms. In the first step, Question and Explain, students describe their art-making process. In the second step, Evaluate, students judge their own work and others. The first step is necessary in this reflection process; students must understand the specifics of their own work process in order to evaluate the effectiveness of their art. 

Setting Goals, Making Progress
Self-assessment is a useful tool in the artistic process by delineating progress toward goals. Arts Propel, an arts assessment project at Harvard, identified “the ability to articulate artistic goals” as a component of student reflection. Self-assessment also helps students self-regulate (Andrade & Valtcheva, 2009). In other words, self-assessment helps students understand where they are in relation to the goals they have set for themselves. Practicing a musical instrument is a self-assessment opportunity that music educator Darren Johnson (Johnson, 2009) uses with his students. They have to set goals, come up with strategies to meet those goals, and ensure progress is being made.

Growing Towards Artistic Independence  
Self-assessment offers a number of benefits to student artists. First, it encourages them to understand their own learning. Second, it can also increase student motivation and ownership over their own learning. Even the youngest students can self-assess meaningfully as long as it is taught in developmentally appropriate ways (Bingham, Holbrook & Meyers, 2010). And, lastly, self-assessment contributes to student artistic autonomy. Music teachers Connie Hale and Susan Green identified that using self-assessment in their curricula led their own students to greater musical independence. Their students were better able to make their own corrections and judgments about quality after self-assessing (Hale & Green, 2009).

Self-assessments take time and most students need instruction in how to utilize them well. Structuring self-assessments with rubrics or writing prompts and then providing feedback focuses students. It is not uncommon for students to warm slowly to self-assessment. It is still a relatively underused approach, but practice makes perfect.



Patti Saraniero
Original Writer


Andrade, Heidi, and Anna Valtcheva. “Promoting Learning and Achievement through Self-Assessment.” Theory into Practice 48, no. 1 (January 1, 2009): 12-19.


Bingham, Gary, Teri Holbrook, and Laura E. Meyers. “Using Self-Assessments in Elementary Classrooms.” Phi Delta Kappan 91, no. 5 (February 1, 2010): 59-62.


Booth, Eric. (1999). The Everyday Work of Art. Sourcebooks.


Hale, Connie L., and Susan K. Green. “Six Key Principles for Music Assessment.” Music Educators Journal 95, no. 4 (January 1, 2009): 27-31.


Johnson, Darren. “More than Just Minutes: Using Practice Charts as Tools for Learning.” Music Educators Journal 95.3 (2009): 63-70.

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