Hot Tips & Topics

We are dedicated to providing you with a comprehensive collection of relevant and up-to-date K-12 education news and editorials. For teachers, by teachers.

How to Use Assessment to Motivate Students

Nancy W. Sindelar

 Does your staff need Assessment or Motivation training? The K-12 Teachers Alliance can help you plan your in-service professional development at no additional cost.Does your staff need Assessment or Motivation training? The K-12 Teachers Alliance can help you plan your in-service professional development at no additional cost.

As teachers, we often spend countless hours grading papers and writing comments in margins, only to have our students look at the grade and then toss the paper in the wastebasket. 

While we must evaluate our students’ work, we also need to develop opportunities for our students to think about their work and use our corrective feedback to develop next steps for meeting the learning targets we have set.

How Assessment Affects Learning

Related Articles
Tablet displaying ‘Zoom’ sitting on a coffee table with books and a pencil.
With the shift to distance learning, having the right instruction tools is...
Open book that is turning into a laptop with various icons coming out of the screen.
More and more teachers every day are having to move to online learning. Explore...
Stethoscope in the shape of a heart surround ‘April 7’ and ‘World Health Day.’
With the ongoing global health pandemic, teaching students about health is as...
The word ‘maker’ surrounded by tools, wires, and more.
Engage your students and get them excited about learning with Maker Education....
Young boy sitting at a desk in a classroom writing in a journal.
Self-regulation is an essential tool in any student’s toolbox if they want to...

The difference between good students and weak students is that good students are able to absorb our feedback and use it to create a pathway toward understanding learning targets. Weak students, however, have trouble understanding feedback and need us to give them specific next steps in order for them to develop a growth mindset and see a path toward understanding. Unlike our good students, our weaker students often have given up trying to understand our comments written in the margins of their papers or don’t know how to find solutions to the test items they missed.   Because they don’t understand how to improve, they often dismiss school and school work as “stupid” or simply say, “I don’t care.”


When we teach our students how to use our feedback to analyze their work, it not only gives meaning to the time and effort we have put into grading and commenting on their work, but also engages our students in the learning process. Requiring students to think about and apply criteria for meeting learning targets in the context of their own work encourages students to monitor their own work and take responsibility for their own learning.


Getting students involved in analyzing their mistakes on tests helps them to understand the intended learning, the immediate next steps they need to take in their journey toward learning targets, and gives them a clearer picture as to just where they are in the journey. Hattie and Timperely’s (2007) review of the research on feedback determined that analysis of mistakes is one of the most powerful ways students learn or increase their learning.


What You Can Do to Make Assessment More Effective

We can help our students’ by teaching them to be more analytic about their own learning, by giving them class time and a structure to examine their own work in relation to previously explained criteria, and by clarifying how they can improve their work.


  • We begin by helping our students to identify their mistakes by providing them with item analyses of their tests or rubric scored projects.
  • We then set up a system to involve our students in thinking about their mistakes.
    Give them time to consider why they made the mistake, and
    Help them to understand what they will do differently next time.

Thinking About Doing Better (below) is an example of a handout for helping students to analyze their mistakes on a forced-choice or short answer test. Each student has a form and works in a group of two or three.


After students analyze their mistakes with a partner, they are asked to set some learning goals. When students examine what they are doing well and what they need to improve on, they are beginning the process of setting their own goals for learning. Students should be encouraged to set small, realistic goals as the most useful goals are those that reflect steps along the way---not just the final outcome. Taking small steps helps students to self-monitor their way to success. (Davies, 2007)


Sample Assessment Handout:  Thinking About Doing Better

Directions: Identify three items (questions or problems) you missed on the test. Then with a partner decide why you missed the question and how you could fix it. Next, with your partner write down what you will do differently the next time you encounter a similar question or problem.   Budget your time to eight minutes per item.

Item number



Why I got it wrong    

How I can fix it 

What I will do next time














My Goals

Directions: By yourself write down two learning goals and the activities you will engage in to reach them. If you need help identifying activities, ask your partner or your teacher.


Goal One:




Activities for Goal One:

Goal Two:



Activities for Goal Two:




Copyright 2011 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Assessment-Powered Teaching by Nancy W. Sindelar. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, Reproduction authorized only for the local school site or nonprofit organization that has purchased this book.

Whether we evaluate our students’ work by scanning answer sheets, hand-scoring test items, putting check marks on rubrics, or commenting directly on students’ written work, our evaluative feedback needs to provide information for helpful “next steps “ for learning and not just a grade. Then class time needs to be set aside for students to understand and use our feedback to enhance their learning.


When we define what our students need to know and provide the criteria they need to successfully learn and meet their learning targets, we help our students believe in their potential for success. When we build assessment systems that provide valuable information to pinpoint gaps in learning and show our students the next steps they need to take to eliminate the gaps, we involve our students in the assessment process, and our students gain sense of ownership and commitment to learning. Soon they become more focused, motivated and achievement oriented.


How do you use assessment to further learning in your classroom? Share in the comments section!



Davies, Anne. "Involving Students in the Classroom Assessment Process. In D. Reeves (Ed.) Ahead of the Curve (pp. 31-58) Bloomington, IN.: Solution Tree.

Hattie, J. and Timberly, H. (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77 (1), 81-122.

Sindelar, N. (2010) Assessment-Powered Teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin Press

Today's Poll

Which types of articles would you like to see from us in 2020?
Classroom Management
Classroom Activities/Games
Teaching Strategies
Technology in the Classroom
Professional Development
Total votes: 167