Home | Purpose | Process | Assessment | Value | History | Visit


Why should young people engage in self-assessment? Teenagers are continually being assessed by schools, parents, and peers, but they are rarely asked to engage in a reflective, goal-directed self-assessment of their own actions or assets. To build an identity as a decision maker, you need not only the opportunity to make meaningful decisions, but also the awareness that your own (sometimes unexamined) actions have reasons and consequences. To be a reflective decision maker, you need, in addition, strategies for assessing your assets and goals, for making plans, and for evaluating options and outcomes. 

Decision Makers provides a scaffold for building this problem-solving identity and strategies for reflective self-assessment. Carnegie Mellon supports the process with a seminar and support for teachers and mentors, computer tools, and a final formal analysis of growth and change. Together the Assessment and Journey Book function

  • As a personal planning portfolio
  • As a placeholder for personal and problem-solving conversations with mentors
  • As a tool for program assessment



Decision Makers takes you through seven steps on your way to becoming a reflective decision maker. With each step (except 3), you will be creating a text that becomes part of your Journey Book.



1. Create a profile of your networks of support, assets, and plans.

Starting Point Profile

  • Who is traveling with me?
  • What am I working on in my life?
  • What is my situation?
  • What would I like to change?
2. Explore computer design tools.

Self-Designed Front Page

  • Who am I?
  • What images portray my identity?
3. Meet Stephanie and Bryan, your guides
in the multimedia introduction.


4. Learn to bring rival hypotheses to a problem
to collaboratively analyze a past decision.

Portrait of Myself as a Decision Maker—Looking Back

  • What is the story-behind-the-story of a past good decision?
  • What is the story-behind-the-story of a past bad decision?
5. Think through a hard decision you are likely
to face and make a strong action plan.

Portrait of a Decision—Looking Forward

  • What is a decision I will make in the near future?
  • What are the options in the decision?
  • What will I decide? Why?
  • What actions can I take to follow my decision?
6. Record milestones and set goals for your
specific program.

Portfolio of Plans and Accomplishments

  • What are my goals for this program?
  • What milestones have I set?
  • What is the evidence for my achievements?
7. Return to update your Profile to assess changes
and progress.

Check Point Profile

  • How am I doing as a decision maker?
  • How has my support network changed?
  • What am I working on in my life now?



As part of the process, you will also receive two asset assessments:



Using the Starting Point Profile, the Carnegie Mellon team analyzes the data for the group and scores it for the level of reflective decision making.

The Initial Asset Assessment Document

  • Size and diversity of personal network
  • Level of assets and support
  • Ability to make operational, reasoned, and reflective decisions

Using the Check Point Profile, the Carnegie Mellon team analyzes the quantitative changes in the asset base of the group and qualitative growth in reflective decision making.

The Check Point Asset Assessment Document

  • Changes in size and diversity of personal network
  • Changes in assets and support
  • Growth in ability to make operational, reasoned, and reflective decisions

The Asset Assessment Report includes the following pieces:

The Network of Support Analysis
This section gives you a quantitative snapshot of the size and diversity of the individual's (and the group’s) network of support—plus their awareness of how that support functions.

The Asset Analysis
This section gives you a quantitative picture of the asset base (the level of support and size of change) individuals (and the group) perceive they have in 23 areas (clustered around issues of agency, motivation, decision making, support networks, and dealing with others).

The Reflective Decision Making Analysis
This section gives you a qualitative assessment, scored by Carnegie Mellon judges, of the level of reflective decision making demonstrated in the 20 written comments throughout the Profile.

  • Level “1” decisions are appropriate, standard answers that are not elaborated or personal.
    For example: I want to make good grades and pay attention to my teachers.
  • Level “2” decisions are elaborated and personal with specific actions and reasons.
    For example: I am going to study everyday after school at my desk in my room, with the radio turned off.  My brothers and sisters are not allowed to come in and bother me because I always use that as a reason to stop.
  • Level “3” decisions go a step further by considering multiple options and rival readings, by imagining possible outcomes and recognizing the conditions that affect them.
    For example: I have to start asking my teachers for help at school when I’m having a problem.  Before I thought that asking my teachers would make me look stupid because my dad always hates it when I ask him questions.  But I know teachers are really there to help me.  Well, at least three of them are, if they think I am really trying.



Decision Makers and Critical Thinking
Critical thinking has been described as reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on what to believe or do.  It depends on a raft of abilities, from analyzing arguments and weighing evidence, to making value judgments, to taking an open-minded, questioning attitude to ideas.  All these abilities can come into play in decision making. However, when people are standing there—on the brink of a decision, pulled forward by the need to act—they sometimes fail to do the kind of critical thinking they are capable of. Like a coach that fails to send in the “A” team when it is needed, they never call up the decision making strategies that would let them reflect and reason before they leap.

What the Research Shows About Decision Making
In-depth studies of the strategies people use to make decisions help explain what goes wrong. When 105 high school students told researchers about a recent decision they had to make (about peers, money, school, sex, drugs, alcohol), it was clear that most teens only considered one option (deciding between “Yes, I’ll do that” or “No, I won’t”). They rarely named any distinct alternatives or additional options. They focused on avoiding bad outcomes rather than achieving positive goals, and rarely considered the possible outcomes of their choice or the probabilities it would succeed. In other words, they stopped thinking about their options before the decision making really got started. And other studies suggest that adults are often not much better.

Strategies for Reflective Decision Making
Reflective decision making calls the critical thinking, “A” team into the game. More specifically, it uses a set of strategies that helps people to focus on realistic, specific actions and situations, to come up with more options and good rivals, and to test and question their own ideas. And because it depends on specific strategies, it also lets people judge whether they have built a reflective or “strong” decision. You can tell a “strong” decision that is built on reflective thinking because it:

  • Is detailed and elaborated with specifics.
  • Spells out practical actions the decision maker could take or steps for what to do.
  • Is personal and clearly refers to the decision maker’s actual situation (beyond the generalities anyone might say about this problem).
  • Goes even further to explain the situation or decision by giving reasons (with words like “since,” “because,” “so”).
  • Raises real rivals and recognizes alternatives to the decision maker’s own ideas.
  • Describes the special conditions under which their options would work (with words like “if” or “when”).



Decision Makers grew out of The Community Literacy Center, a collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University and the Community House, a historic urban settlement house. The Community Literacy Center opened its doors on Pittsburgh’s Northside in 1990, led by Dr. Wayne C. Peck, Executive Director of the Community House, and Dr. Linda Flower, then Co-Director of the National Center for the Study of Writing and Literacy at Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon. With the support of the Howard Heinz Endowment and the R.K. Mellon Foundation we helped urban teenagers become better writers and problem solvers. And in the process, we developed a body of community-savvy, research-based, and technology-friendly strategies for communication. Two books, Learning To Rival: A Literate Practice for Intercultural Inquiry and Community Literacy and the Rhetoric of Public Engagement, document how this community/university approach to decision making through writing helped urban teenagers confront issues from drugs and risk to respect and school reform.

By 1998 the collaboration included other community organizations and schools who were asking how such problem-solving strategies could help their students enter the world of work. One high school wanted to help its struggling ninth graders transition to high school. Another needed an online portrait of progress that could be used by students and teachers. Community organizations, from faith-based youth groups to HUD housing centers, needed to document the personal growth they were seeing in the people they served. Finally, a generative collaboration with Stacie Dojonovic and The Start on Success program (developed with the National Organization on Disability) let us adapt Decision Makers to support students with learning disabilities in their transition from school to work and college. Now students from Pittsburgh Public and Fox Chapel Area Schools (with coordinators Katherine McFall and Stacie Dojonovic) come to Carnegie Mellon for the six-week Decision Makers experience. Each Scholar is supported by a college mentor, who is in turn supported by the CMU course, Literacy: Educational Theory and Community Practice.

This history shaped Decision Makers into a concise introduction to decision making and a tool for reflective self-assessment. It takes an asset-based approach to personal development, helping writers evaluate their own assets by looking at their experiences and community supports. In the Journey Book, writers begin to build their own asset base by examining their personal goals, plans for change, and decision-making strategies. Decision Makers combines a learning experience with a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the assets and decision-making growth of individuals and groups.

Relevant publications listed on www.cmu.edu/thinktank/docs.html include:

“Community Literacy.”  Peck, Flower, Higgins.  CCC, 46, 1995.
Problem-Solving Strategies for Writing in College & Community. Flower. Harcourt. 1998.
Learning To Rival.  Flower, Long, Higgins. Erlbaum. 2000.
Negotiating the Culture of Work and Technology. Community Think Tank Findings.  2000.
Naming the LD Difference. Community Think Tank Findings. 2003.
Decision Making and Responsibility Taking: A Community-Based Assessment of Transition Strengths. Community Think Tank Findings. 2004.
Community Literacy and the Rhetoric of Public Engagement. Flower. So Illinois UP. 2008.





If you are interested in the Decision Makers program and want to try the online program, click on the picture below:

Click "Login" and enter "tester" for both your username and password. You will not be able to enter Step 1 or Step 7 (the assessment) with this password, but you can view the various steps and tutorials available.

For more information, contact
Dr. Linda Flower
Carnegie Mellon University
Email: lf54@andrew.cmu.edu
Phone: 412.268.2863
Fax: 412.268.7989