Monday, December 14, 2009

Self-Evaluation: What have you learned this semester?

Whether your professors require it or not, I highly recommend writing self-evaluations. I require my students to write them twice during the semester: in the middle and at the end. Self-evaluations are a good tool to help keep your writing and goals on track.

The questions are straight-forward:
1. How has your writing improved since the semester began?
2. What do you think could be improved about your writing during the second half of the semester (or next semester)?
3. What are your goals for your writing overall?

These questions keep you on a solid path of improvement. It is easy to get swept up in the semester’s assignments and forget about your goals.

In a recent blog post on editing and revising, I suggest that you keep track of the aspects of writing that you do well and those that you need to improve upon. This list will help you as you write, edit and revise each paper.

By stepping back and looking at your writing overall in a self-evaluation, you will have an even better sense of your skills and your writing goals.

When I read my students’ self-evaluations, I am looking for precise and introspective writing. I don’t need to read about your darkest secret, but I do want to read something specific enough that shows you thought about your writing. For example, I prefer to read how a student conquered the proper use of semi-colons or learned how to do a successful database search. I do not want to read a general statement like, “my grades improved, so I reached my goal.”

Sometimes students will say that they don’t want to sound like they are bragging or they don’t want to disclose their weaknesses and end up with a bad grade. When I read the self-evaluations, I don’t grade them based on what they’ve learned. In fact, I don’t usually grade them at all. (I give a check for completing the assignment.) I am looking for honesty and concrete facts. Tell me what you do well and what you need to improve upon. I’ve been reading (and grading) your papers and have a good sense of where you are. By writing down your thoughts, we can see if we are on the same proverbial page and I can offer you readings or exercises to help you reach your goals.

Sometimes these three self-evaluation questions are harder than they seem. In my more advanced writing classes, where the goals are more likely to involve less obvious issues of voice, audience or tone, I sometimes assign interviews in the place of self-evaluations. I find that it can be easier to take yourself seriously when you face another person. Therefore, the interviewer, who has already read some of the interviewee’s work, asks questions similar to those above. The interviewer writes the answer in essay form and the interviewee inevitably learns something new about her writing based on her own words. This is most successful when the interviewer asks strong follow-up questions to the interviewee’s answers.

If self-evaluations are not required, you might want to jot down a few notes for yourself. You don’t need to show anyone else, but you should look at the notes periodically.

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