A Useful Self-Assessment Process…

Today at the end of class I modeled a tool for class self-assessment.  It’s called the After-Action Review, but others may know it as the Post-Action Review, the Post-Mortem, or a Retrospective Analysis.

Regardless, it is a knowledge management process focused on finding ways to improve group learning. It is about asking the questions that get students discussing what went well, what did not, and what might be done to improve.

There are three steps to an AAR: the group recognizes what was supposed to happen, explores what did happen (from multiple points of view) and lastly develops a workable response, a plan to improve.

To illustrate, after my classes created their social contract (a project they ran from start to finish) I told them it was time for an AAR.  I describe the purpose and structure of the AAR and asked them to wrestle with the three questions.  They did, and I listened.  They did well for day two, but were rather tepid in their recommendations.

For instance, after having just decided how they wanted to handle “presence” in the class, they didn’t talk about the lack of presence during the discussion of presence.  (Ironic, yes.)

They didn’t notice, but I did.  I modeled for them how we’d ask the three questions toward this end, and then (in light of my modeling) what recommendations they might come to.

“Names” they said.  “We need to learn each other’s names.”

“Yes,” I affirmed.  “That’s an example of a good recommendation.  How do we learn the names?”

From this prompt they worked on potential solutions, and because it was self-assesses (vs. imposed by me) they’ll own it.

Although they own it, you should always listen carefully to what students are saying. When you hear something that strikes you a good comment, key point, or a possible recommendation, be ready to summarize the words in a way that captures the sentiment… “what I heard you say is…”

But only intervene if you sense they’ve completely missed it…give them as much time as possible.

By the way…two of my classes did brilliantly with this.  The last one was a struggle.  You never know!  And the next time it could be the opposite.

What it takes

Running an effective AAR takes a classroom culture of introspection, honesty, and a genuine desire to learn. These require trust and mutual respect.  See my essay on Trust.

Specific AAR Ground Rules

It’s not about affixing blame; it’s about process improvement

Never offer up “mistakes” for discussion – “let’s discuss what happened when the Power Point slide didn’t work.”  Don’t frame the issue for them…let them draw the conclusions from their discussion.  It’s about self-discovery.

Everyone should participate




  1. The AAR has helped all of my classes find solutions to problems and continue to improve the learning experience. On Friday we will have an AAR of the first week activities. We may use QFocus in the AAR for process improvement.


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