VII. How to Evaluate in Strength-Based Learning


For strength-based learning, the ultimate goal is not to achieve a specific level of knowledge, but to gain behavioural strategies that permit one to engage with reality.  Of course, a certain level of knowledge is necessary for this, since learning is context-bound.  It’s, therefore, important to see whether students have expanded their behavioural strategies in the evaluation.  For this reason, we use the OICO-principle (Observation, Imitation, Creation and Originality), based on the integration of skills into higher-order skills.  We will now attempt to illustrate this with an extreme, yet, realistic example. 

A young person from a difficult neighbourhood has developed behavioural strategies to deal with conflict by using violence to settle the conflict to her advantage.  Thanks to her behavioural strategies, she has built up a certain reputation in the area, with the consequence that she is not bothered and rarely has to use the strategies.  In school, she learns how to verbally defend herself, and is able to connect this with convincing non-verbal communication.  Now, she is able to combine these new verbal skills with her physical ones should she need to fight.  This further solidifies her position in the neighbourhood.  Should she choose, she can use these integrated skills for either legal or illegal purposes.  Regardless, she is better prepared to live a meaningful life in this context (i.e., a difficult neighbourhood) than other young people in the school, who achieve the highest marks, don’t know the neighbourhood, don’t understand the customs and are unable to apply physical behavioural strategies successfully. 

In this context, when young people are presented with enough legal possibilities to live a meaningful life, there is a good chance that the young person will choose a legal path.  At least if the situation in the neighbourhood has not become so corrupted that the young person’s status is not diminished by choosing a legal path.  However, when the chances to use her strengths lawfully are too narrow, her possibility to achieve success increases by choosing an illegal path.   This is what happens in neighbourhoods where youth unemployment is high, where policymakers have few positive plans for the area, and young people (as well as their parents) experience systematic discrimination.    

When violent conflict arises, often policymakers make moral judgements about young people.  What they’ve done is ‘unacceptable’, they are ‘rotten apples’ and repressive measures are put in place as a consequence.  The young person’s strengths from the example (in this neighbourhood) are translated by policymakers into weaknesses, or their behaviour is seen as a result of injuries. 

Strength-based learning assumes that skills are neither good nor bad, but that contexts force people to make choices that are either acceptable or unacceptable.  The central question then becomes how this young person can positively use her strengths.  For this reason, she must learn how to apply her strengths in diverse ways or expand her behavioural strategies, based on her strengths. 

In this way, the concept of ‘responsibility’ is conferred a different meaning.  A young person is responsible for expanding his or her behavioural strategies to better deal with reality.  Policymakers (a school or teacher) are responsible for providing a context where a young person can use those skills legally and ethically.  Both are responsible for adjusting the context so that the young person can use his or her strengths to learn what he or she needs to learn to become more successful in society.   

With this, we are not implying that punishment for breaking the rules or laws should be ignored, on the contrary.  When someone breaks the rules (young people or supervisors), the consequences should be clear and the same for everyone.  The discussion that happens afterwards is not about how ‘bad it was that it happened’, but about mapping strengths and determining what needs to happen to respond adequately in subsequent situations (expansion of behavioural strategies).  This is then also connected to what needs to happen to rectify things for those who experienced some kind of disadvantage due to transgressive behaviour.  

Self-evaluation: Basis to Nuance.

There is nothing that suggests that young people from another country are less able to evaluate themselves in a nuanced way.  Several evaluation skills have little to do with the language of the country of origin.  The ability to make in-depth observations and analysis is connected with richer language skills, but not with a specific language.  On the other hand, we see that many schools are not accustomed to systematically using self-evaluations and rarely connect a student to it.  This means that in some cases, a number of newcomers might actually be stronger in self-evaluation than more privileged native students.  

When we bring together a group of well-educated adults into an unknown situation and afterwards discuss this situation with them, we see that they limit their evaluation to the categories of ‘good – not good’.  In other words, in a new context (where the language is less necessary to describe a situation), everyone falls back onto the same basic level of evaluation (good – not good).  Evaluation is then very quickly expanded to more emotions.  From Paul Ekman’s research on non-verbal communication, we know that there are about six universal emotions, where facial expressions in all cultures are more or less the same.  These emotions are the following:  happiness, fear, contempt, sadness, disgust (= good and not good) and surprise. 

For a group of newcomers, this is a potentially strong starting point for self-evaluation.  When we combine this with the OICO-principle, then we can develop the following (learning-) path: 

  • Good – not good

  • Evaluation based on feelings

  • Formulation of strengths, coupled with observation, imitation, creation, originality

  • Formulation of new challenges and areas of improvement

  • Thinking about the next steps in the learning process

Hence, we use the same symbols throughout the school year:

Good - Not Good

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Global Self-Evaluation:

When students becomes sufficiently familiar with this form of evaluation, then, a ‘mirror evaluation’ can be added for the teacher.  A ‘mirror evaluation’ means that the teacher more or less evaluates the students with the same evaluation form used by the students.   

Self-evaluation in strength-based learning is essential. The student is the expert of him or herself.  He or she can best estimate what he or she needs to further learning.  The teacher is the expert of context:  he or she can best estimate what the possibilities are to advance with respect to content.  The student, therefore, gains equal say in the ‘how’, while the teacher determines the possibilities of the ‘what’. 

College Student


When we are successful in connecting the student’s learning with his or her long-term goals, then, we are able to .In the context of ‘time’, we ask the student to determine what their long-term goals for their future and the world are.The ‘Goals Planner’ supports them in doing this.


Self-evaluation is ideal when students are allowed to direct their own learning processes.  That’s why the teacher is obliged to accept the student’s feedback and adapt to the context when needed.  When we connect self-evaluation to the context ‘time’, a student can keep track of his or her own progress through the Week Planner and Goals Planner.  This however doesn’t concern the progression of the student in comparison to the rest of the class (group), the curriculum or academic expectations. Hence, in order to ensure that the learning process is self-directed, we work with ‘rubrics’ that are shared with each student.  In this way, each young person is able to see from where she or she has come (‘what can I already do?’), where he or she is now and where he or she is going. 


Evaluation with Rubrics Based on OICO Principles.  

The setting up of ‘rubrics’ takes time (and effort).  They need to be as concrete as possible so that the young person is able to see the next step.  By using the OICO-principle as the basis, we ensure that the integration of higher-order skills are made evident.  It’s for that reason that we always place the integration of skills or diverse behaviours under ‘Originality’.  However, when we think in terms of competences, we often see that the learning processes do not proceed farther than ‘Imitation’:  ‘I do this in the way that I was taught’. 

Rubrics that are more elaborated make it clear to the student what he or she should be able to do so that higher-order skills can be performed independently and utilized at the appropriate level.  In the example given below (see rubrics chart), all of the aspects of creative writing are elaborated.  In this way, learners can decide for themselves on what skill they want to work.  For example, they can decide to postpone working on a sub-skill that they do not yet command.  Sometimes working on a skill that one prefers helps to lift blockages to work on more difficult skills.  Learning is also about being able to let things be and later taking them up again. 

What are the prerequisites to use rubrics for evaluation? 

  • A rubric is based on a higher-order skill

  • Sub-rubrics consist of sub-skills of a higher-order skill

  • For each sub-skill, one determines what is understood under the categories of Observation, Imitation, Creation and Originality (OICO). 

  • The rubric is completed with concrete observable behaviour or concrete observable results, not with subjective or moral terms.  We avoid the word ‘able’.  What you are able to do is not observable behaviour.  In this way judgements or evaluations can be made based on what you have SEEN the student do. 

  • When a sub-skill concerns knowledge, then, the first question that one asks is how this knowledge can be used within the context of a higher-order skill.  The ‘how’ of knowledge can be transformed back to a sub-skill. 


It is beyond the scope of this Guide to work out every rubric for all of the disciplines or topics that can be discussed in a classroom.  Hence, we limit ourselves to one rubric that addresses the skill of ‘creative writing’.  This is only an example and is not exhaustive.  Depending on the theoretical frameworks and learning objectives that might be determined by law in a particular country or region, a rubric could look different to what is presented here. 

Rubric for Creative Writing using the OICO-principle

The analysis of this rubric makes it clear that:   

  • The sub-skills at the top of the rubric are connected to the sub-sills placed lower on the chart.  

  • The young person has a clear overview of what it takes to write a strong text.  

  • A young person is able to determine his or her own trajectory.  He might initially choose for a few sub-skills under ‘Observation’ and ‘Imitation’, or for all of the sub-skills at once in order to jump to ‘Creation’.  Or young person might work step-by-step on each sub-skill until he arrives at Creation and Originality, and before going on to the next sub-skill.

  • A young person can also present a sub-skill that hasn’t yet been dealt with in a lesson.  Thanks to the rubric structure, it becomes observable.  

  • The rubric ‘creative writing’ is preceded by ‘creating telling’.   By flexibly using the rubric, a young person can become an excellent narrator (storyteller) without (yet) being able to write a creative story.   


In this rubric, ‘knowledge’ is understood as recognition as well as the ability to apply (use) it, i.e. the ‘how’ of knowledge.  In a rubric about language recognition, this might be presented differently; a young person might be able to list literary devices and provide correct definitions.

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A well-constructed rubric provides indications on how an assignment or exercise for sub-skills looks like (coupled with a category from the OICO-principle).We clarify with two examples:

  • Associative narration in function of a goal/originalityYou consciously use an effect in function of a narrative goal. Assignment: Work together with a partner. Tell a story to your partner about the last time you went to the store.  Insert or include made-up elements to this story where you work with the feelings of indignation or outrage.  Try to tell it in such a way that the others are unable to tell which part is made up and which part is not (really happened).

  • Literary devices / imitation: You make up and write a story in function of the given literary devices. Assignment: Write a text of 20 lines about a lazy afternoon.  Use at least 2 metaphors and 3 alliterations. 


A self-evaluation and an evaluation based on rubrics form the basis of a strength-based learning evaluation.   Through self-evaluation, young people learn how to nuance their self-image and map both their strengths and areas for improvement as a basis for determining their next steps.  With rubrics, young people can see for themselves where they stand in relation to the others in their class.  They see where they need to go and can partially determine their own learning path for themselves.   In this way, the student progresses towards greater self-direction and independence in his or her own learning process. 

Compass & Map


VIII. Activities​


Creating a Context vs. Thinking in Exercises

Similarities and Differences

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Create and Tell

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Exercise Integration

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