Preparation and Self-Assessment

As we worked on our assessment units in class, I began to think about how assessment follows us from birth to death. For many of us, the first words we’ll hear are “It’s a (insert gender pronoun here)!” And as I recently sat in the funeral of a relative, I listened to other family member’s assessments of her life: “She was kind. She glowed from within. She taught us how to die and how to live.” Though birth and death allow us to perform ritualized behaviors, we don’t always realize that assessment is part of what we do in these situations.

Too often assessment comes too late, both inside and outside of our time in the classroom.

Doing the early course survey with my students was an opportunity for each of us to assess the other. They had the chance to request more or less of something in our time together. I had the chance to figure out where they needed clarification and support. This experience made me think about the ways that assessment can be more powerful when it’s a two-way street. And it will help me prepare the rest of the course to respond to the information they shared with me. Merely asking students for their feedback about what they need can be profound. It can change the relationship from vertical to horizontal as Irene pointed out in her wonderful post.

Today, my students heard a lecture from guest artist Jack O’Brien, a three time Tony Award winner for Best Director. It was fabulous and inspiring. One of the aspiring actors in the room asked Mr. O’Brien about what he looks for in an audition. His response was specific to the audition room, yet universal to any one who has ever had to prepare for something, i.e. all of us. He talked about the importance of being so prepared that you are able to be confident, spontaneous, and ready to show off how hard you have worked. To reach this point requires that one takes self-assessment seriously and practices it often. This means showing up for yourself and holding yourself responsible for you. Self-assessment can mean periodically checking in with yourself to note your feelings about a given thing or it can be as involved as writing down your goals and steps you are taking/will take to achieve them.

Preparation is a wonderful tool for self-assessment, one that I think is too often overlooked. How can we stress to our students the importance of preparation? for the course? for their lives? How can we teach our students the work of preparation?

Giving yourself the proper preparation necessarily involves a self assessment. Where am I at? What do I need to do to get to where I want to be? How can I take steps to bridge that gap?

As I go through the rest of the semester I plan to make space for my own self-assessment. How am I doing? What tools can I use to ensure that my students succeed? How can I facilitate their own skills of preparation and self-assessment?



  1. Thank you for this — a very powerful opening especially.

    Two thoughts–

    1. Many of us (both students and teachers) have been hearing “be prepared!” for quite some time (remember that catchy song from the Lion King?) But be prepared for what? The problem comes in when we say to our students “be prepared for a pop quiz” [for example] because that instantly instills fear and panic in them and creates an environment not conducive to the type of formative, self-assessment we hope to foster. Instead, it may be better to be specific: “Come to class next week prepared to identify the stems of Latin nouns….or to transliterate the Greek alphabet.” You may still end up assessing your students via a pop quiz but I think this is a more productive (and direct) way to stress the need for preparation.

    2. We should also consider that preparation, especially any time required outside class, can be hard to achieve for students with jobs or family responsibilities. Sometimes the time a student has in the classroom is all the time they can really dedicate to the course– how can we encourage students to be efficient with the time they do have to prepare, both in and outside the classroom?

    1. Thanks Ryan and Irene. Really thought-provoking post, Ryan, and Irene, you touched on some of my reactions too.

      Re 1 on Irene’s comment, Yes! I agree, and I’ve learned this especially well and deeply working in adult education. Specificity, scaffolding, explicitness, chunking. These are all key.

      And 2, Yes! I have the same question for our students, but often times for myself as well. I always want to do my best in all of my responsibilities. Some days I inevitably feel (and am) more prepared than others. I think I’m decent, and constant, at self-assessing but the question is where to find the time? And how to manage it? Perhaps the answer to 2 lies somewhere in your point in 1. We can support our students in prioritizing by guiding them through what is most important. Where should they spend their time and can we relay this clearly to them? They probably shouldn’t be spending hours formatting their essay perfectly, but they should be spending that time crafting a well thought out thesis, or a practicing the skill of paraphrasing. Or maybe the lesson of the week is, in fact, in figuring out technology and computer programs by doing…

  2. You know I think you touch on something really important here. I love that you began this blog talking about how we are assessors from birth to death but “Too often assessment comes too late, both inside and outside of our time in the classroom.” I think we are building this layer into our students toolkit. It may not seem evident that the process is happening but, even when our students criticize our teaching, classes and methods, they are in some way assessing their participation and our participation in their learning. For some, they realize later that it was an enriching experience and perhaps, others won’t have such explicit revelations. One student may call out another about not doing the work, and others may admit they could be doing more. Or, they learn about their case specific learning styles and begin to see what works or does not work for them. But, I believe what we do encourages their awareness and discipline, even if we don’t get to see the outcome immediately. I have to trust that it’s happening or going to happen, so that I can attempt to actively participate in this process. Having someone like Jack O’Brien come in and lecture is a great way to spark that fire. Real world cases tend to offer students some realistic applications to better see what this is all for.

  3. What a great post, Ryan. Jack O’Brien must certainly have been quite a treat for those undergraduate theater students. This is truly an advantage to being in the heart of New york City.

    Your comments and questions about preparation are quite salient and might just be a core characteristic of success… just about anything.

    We have talked quite a bit about preparation in Anatomy class as it is key to a successful outcome. One particular aspect of thorough preparation seems key, and that is time. You must allow yourself time to prepare, time to read, to consider, to digest. Without gifting yourself some time for your studies, you can easily find yourself in an unhappy and stressful situation. So we talk about that quite a bit in class……about time…….about how important time really is.

  4. Ryan, your great thoughts on preparation intersect interestingly with a lot of what I’ve been thinking about (and have written about in my latest blog post) from the other side: the side of improv and serendipity. I try to think of it as leaving space for new and unexpected things to appear. As one of my students said wonderfully the other day, our tangents usually end up bringing us back to the topic, and that’s something that I think helps keep my class dynamic energetic and interesting — which is as much or more due to my students’ input and ideas as it is to what I bring.

    Irene, I love the Lion King reference. We talked about it in my class the other day as an analogue for Hamlet – I don’t teach Shakespeare, but we were coming up with a list of fourth wall breaking texts and films, and moved from that to (self-)referential ones.

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