Teaching, Learning and Assessments

Empowering Learners through Self-Reflection

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Teachers today are faced with the task of preparing their students for an ever-changing world. This can feel overwhelming when we cannot accurately predict the jobs that will be available when they hit the workforce 10 years down the road. Therefore, some people argue that on top of the normal educational goals of learning how to read, write, and calculate a math problem, we must also teach our students to be flexible, critical thinkers, to persevere when stuck, collaborate, and create. By focusing on cultivating these abilities in our students we can raise up a generation of empowered learners. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) believes in student empowerment so strongly that they have set it as the basis for all subsequent standards. But what does it really mean for a student to be empowered and how does a teacher help do so? Pandolpho (2018) commented, “We can empower our students to be in charge of their own learning by creating interesting, open-ended tasks that target real-world skills, meet our learning objectives, and enable students to make choices and then measure and reflect on their progress” (p. 2). As a Digital Learning Coach, I have seen teachers design captivating lessons, allowing for student’s questions and interest to direct the learning process, and then gave them choice in how they demonstrated their knowledge. These are classrooms that I would love to be in a student in! However, I think teachers commonly make the mistake of moving on to the next topic quickly, failing to give students the proper time to reflect on their learning. We can empower students to be part of their education when we hold them accountable to self-assess.

ISTE Student Standards

1. Empowered Learner

Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences. 
1a. Students articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes. 
1c. Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. 

When reading through ISTE Standard 1, I was struck by the importance of having students take responsibility for their learning and reflect on their progress. Learning in the classroom should be a partnership between teacher and student, and they should be working together towards a common goal. That is why it is vital to have clearly defined learning targets for each and every lesson. I decided to dive in deeper and explore the following question:

“How can we daily help students understand learning goals, then use technology for students to self-assess and demonstrate learning in quick and manageable ways?”

Why should we use learning targets? 

Learning targets not only help drive effective teaching, but they also inform students of the goal and allow them to be an essential part of the process. Learning targets should be written in student-friendly language explaining what you intend students to learn or accomplish. These can be written in “I can…” statements that allow students to easily measure if they have reached the goal of the lesson. For example, “I can find the noun in a given sentence” or “I can identify the causes of the American Revolution”. They should have a specific purpose and be action-based (i.e. describe, explain, compare and contrast, sort, demonstrate, etc.) In the book Learning Targets, Moss and Brookhart (2012) argue: “The most effective teaching and the most meaningful student learning happen when teachers design the right learning target for today’s lesson and use it along with their students to aim for and assess learning” (p. 9). If you do not know where you are going, how will you ever get there? Both teachers and students should know what the goal of the lesson is so they can work together as a team. Meaningful student learning happens when students know the learning target, understand what quality work looks like, and are engaged in challenging and interesting performances of their learning. When students reflect on their learning they internalize standards and take on greater responsibility for their learning (Moss and Brookhart, 2012, p. 15). If they have not reached the learning goal they can ask for help, clarify misconceptions, or make a plan for what further needs to happen to reach the target objective. What an empowering practice to include in your classroom! Let us intentionally help students develop their metacognitive and decision-making skills so that they can learn to monitor their own progress. (Moss and Brookhart, 2012, p. 25). These skills will aid our students no matter what job they pursue. 

How we can use technology as a tool for student self-assessment?

The second part of my question was focused on how we could use technology to aid students in the self-reflection process. I know teachers never feel like they have enough time in the day- every second counts! When I was teaching, it took self-discipline for me to carve out the time at the end of a lesson to allow students to reflect on their learning. For example, after our math lessons, I would ask students to think about the learning target and grade themselves on a scale of 1-4. Then we’d close our eyes and students would show me a number on their fingers. While this was a quick and easy way to check for understanding and know who I needed to further challenge or pull to reteach, it wasn’t an effective way to track student learning and growth. With the use of technology, we can keep an ongoing journal of each student’s self-reflection to truly capture the learning process. 

Here are a few ideas on how you might use technology in your classroom to document student’s self-assessment scores:


If you haven’t heard of Plickers they’re a handy thing to have in your classroom. To put it simply, students hold up a card that signifies their self-assessed score. Teachers use their smartphones to scan student cards and the data is exported to an excel sheet so that student progress can be documented and tracked.

Explain Everything, Educreations, and DoodleBuddy

These websites and apps are all very similar. They provide students with a digital whiteboard where they can demonstrate their learning and record an audio explanation. It would take a little more time at the end of your lesson, but students could score themselves and then show evidence of how they have reached the learning target.

“I can” Rubrics

Teachers create an online word document where students can record their self-assessment at the end of each lesson. Start off by designing a table that has the learning targets listed as “I can…” statements on the left side. In Math, for example, take the given standards for a chapter and re-write them as “I can..” sentences. At the end of your lesson each day the students can go score themselves in their personal world document. If the lesson is multiple days long they could replace their self-reflected grade if they feel like they have improved, or put a strikethrough on the old grade so that they can clearly see their progress. There can also be a designated spot on the rubric for students to share “what I can do/what I still need help with”. If this is a shared document with the teacher they can see student self-assessments at any time to check for understanding.  Check out an editable template here.

I hope this blog convinces you of the importance of learning targets and gives you some practical ideas on how to use technology to quickly and easily record student self-assessments. Let’s empower our students by helping them develop the ability to self-monitor and communicate their progress towards a goal.


ISTE Standards for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students

Moss, Connie M. & Brookhart, Susan M. (2012). Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today’s Lesson. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/siteASCD/publications/books/learning-targets-sample-chapters.pdf

Pandolpho, Beth. (May 4th, 2018). Putting Students in Charge of Their Learning: Giving students choices and the means to assess their progress fosters metacognition and independence. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/putting-students-charge-their-learning

Sanders, Kylie. (2015, November 10th). What are Plickers? Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aioVCdh7lRM


  • Jessica

    “Let’s empower our students by helping them develop the ability to self-monitor and communicate their progress towards a goal.”

    Yes! The ability to self-monitor learning progress clearly is an important topic and the ability to communicate progress can be difficult for students. Thank you for sharing a few of your specific strategies. Do you find you tent to gravitate towards one more than the other?

  • Sarah Straume

    Wow! First off, thank you so much for all of those resources! I hadn’t heard of many of them. I love that this is such a practical look at learning targets, and not just what they are. I feel ready to use these in the classroom!

  • Jan White

    “[Teachers and students] work together as a team. Meaningful student learning happens when students know the learning target, understand what quality work looks like, and are engaged in challenging and interesting performances of their learning.”
    I agree. And I think this kind of empowerment starts in Kindergarten. Imagine the maturity of our students when they graduate if at each grade level they are supported by teachers who partner with them in their education in this way.

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