Canadian Assessment for Learning Network Newsletter, 
June, 2021


  • Editor's Final Message
  • Re-storying Assessment in Teacher Education
  • Going Gradeless
  • Marveller's Mindset Meets Mandated Curriculum with Four Guiding Principles

Editor's Final Message

Katie White, Saskatchewan, Canada

It is June! Can you believe it? For me, this year has been an odd combination of time flying and every day feeling like a challenge. What I know for sure is educators, leaders, families and all the people who support students have shown exemplary commitment, compassion, and creativity this year. There simply are not enough words to thank the people who put their own concerns aside so they could meet students in all the ways and means required to address their needs.

Furthermore, I cannot help but reflect on our students and their strength. I have two students in my own family and I know exactly how challenging this year was for them. The academic twists and turns kept them plenty busy but throw in dramatic shifts in social and emotional supports and we have a cohort of students who showed resilience beyond measure. I know we all recognize that we are in the middle of a tremendous focus to support these learners as they move into another year of uncertainty. I acknowledge their strength in manoeuvring this academic year.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the images in this month's edition of the newsletter.Recently, Canada was, again, forced to face the truth about the deaths of children in residential schools. This is yet another moment of reckoning for our education system and the harm that resulted from forced attendance at these institutions. The images in the banner above represent just a sample of the acknowledgement of these truths within Canadian schools this month. These images are courtesy of two communities in my own school division in Saskatchewan--Nipawin and Hudson Bay. I am grateful for the generosity of my colleagues there who were willing to share these pictures with you. May we assess goals that always focus on truth and reconciliation.

As this school year closes, I want to thank everyone for their support of the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network newsletter over the last few years. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the deep thinking of educators on the Canadian landscape and sharing their ideas with a broader audience through this publication.This will be my final newsletter as editor. I am moving into a new role within CAfLN next year and I look forward to exploring assessment for and as learning through a slightly different lens within the organization.

I thank everyone who contributed to the CAfLN newsletter, with a special thank you to Lori Jeschke, who served as president while I was editor and unfailingly supported me with her words of wisdom and contributions to the newsletter itself on many occasions. She never refused my requests and for that I am so very grateful. 

Be well everyone. Have a gentle and restorative summer and make space for...well, space. Space in the doing; the worrying; the fixing; the holding-it-all-together. Make space for you. 

Re-Storying Assessment in Teacher Education

Nina Pak Lui, School of Education, Trinity Western University, B.C.
As a full-time faculty member in the School of Education at Trinity Western University, I teach fourth year undergraduate student teachers. We partner with a local school to develop foundational assessment literacy before our students' final professional year of certification. This often feels like a herculean feat to accomplish during a 13-week long semester in which students and I only connect two times a week. However, every effort to challenge the status quo and push boundaries over the past few years have been transformative. At the beginning of each semester, students are asked to submit the first few words that come to mind when they think of assessment. Below is a word cloud that was formed by their responses. 

Similar word clouds form each semester, and student voices confirm the current and dominant narrative of assessment. Although much has been written about the impact of formative assessment, most assessments remain summative (Chappuis & Stiggins, 2019). It makes me wonder when and how the focus on learning disappears over their sixteen plus years of education? Listening to their anecdotes reveal how they associate assessment with a wide range of emotional distress which has often led to false definitions of their identity and sense of self-worth. For the majority of student teachers I teach, Assessment for Learning is a new concept they have rarely experienced as a learner. The only way for student teachers to learn to assess in more learner-centered ways was to be assessed this way themselves; unlearning habits, practices, routines, and processes of traditional practices are hard to relinquish (Schimmer et al., 2018). As my knowledge and understanding of evidence-based assessment practices grew and deepened, I made fundamental shifts in my own teaching practice. While this article can not accommodate a full discussion of the entire evolution of my assessment practice, I will highlight two specific Assessment for Learning strategies that significantly contributed to re-storying how assessment bridges teaching and learning effectively to benefit and empower the learner (Schimmer et al., 2018). 

The first strategy is gaining clarity of the course learning standards together with students. Over twenty learning outcomes were inherited in the fourth year assessment course, and although all may be addressed to some degree, it is impossible to teach them all in depth. It was essential to narrow the focus so that students could experience a robust learning cycle. What are the priority learning standards in this course? What are the learning targets underpinning each of them? These guiding questions helped me intentionally design instructional experiences and assessment that are tightly connected and aligned. Time was invested to carefully examine, analyze, and make meaning of the priority course learning standards. Students were a part of this process. During exploration and discussion of the goals, they helped to clarify proficiency and ensure that the 'I can....This means that' statements were written in student-friendly language reflective of course learning (White, 2017). Chappuis & Stiggins' (2019) rock metaphor helped students understand that learning targets range in complexity -- priority learning standards represent the ultimate learning desired (rocks and boulders), and the day-to-day lesson level learning targets clarify what proficiency looks and sounds like (pebbles). Clear and tangible learning targets were accessible and visible in various places: course syllabi, assignment details, single-point rubrics, proficiency scale descriptors, assessment information recorded according to the learning represented, and feedback was always in relation to the learning. Gaining clarity shifted the dynamic from a grading culture to a learning culture. It also guided pedagogical decisions to set students up for success and support them in building confidence (White, 2017)

The second strategy is creating time and space for students to have formative and personalized assessment conversations. By mid-semester, foundational knowledge is acquired, initial meaning-making has occurred, and students are practicing and preparing for transfer (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011). This is a critical point in time where students need support to transfer their learning autonomously and effectively in new situations (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011). The teacher becomes like a coach. We come alongside students as learning becomes increasingly complex, provide examples, and give ongoing, personalized feedback (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011). Genuine learning is not promoted simply through receiving feedback. It happens in the opportunities to act on the feedback. For this reason, the students and I hit the pause button; we created space to slow the semester down by cancelling classes and booking face-to-face conversations on Zoom. Mid-semester conferences were highly effective; in these moments, students shared that they felt like I was a colleague as we examined evidence of learning together, discussed strengths and stretches in relation to the learning, and collaboratively determined next steps forward. One student said, “I really appreciated the time we had to discuss how learning was going during conferences. It was extremely clarifying and helped me gain more confidence going forward.” Another noted, “I just want to thank you so much for your specific feedback. This made me feel personally valued as a student. The time you took to discuss areas for improvement really deepened my own reflection. I also found that hearing my strengths helps me know what went well moving forward.” Positive trends in growth were evident, and I remember sitting in awe of how much students learned in such a short period of time. One other comment that stood out to me was from a student who realized that these conversations helped them see their struggles with perfectionism. They realized that learning requires risk-taking and mistake-making. In addition to all of this, making time to have these conversations strengthened the teacher and student relationship. For the majority, trust was established and many had the courage to share personal barriers they were facing in life. This enabled necessary supports students needed to be put in place so that they could have equitable opportunities moving forward. 

Students end the semester using these reflective thinking prompts: I used to think, Then I learned, Now I think, and So I will. Students also re-submit the first words that come to their mind when they now think of the assessment. Below is the word cloud created by student responses at the end of the semester.

I see each semester and each course is an opportunity for transformative learning. Student teachers come with assumptions and biases, and leave with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the purpose of assessment. I notice hope restored, efficacy activated, and joy experienced while celebrating growth (White, 2017). I wonder how student teachers continue their journey after our time together ends. The Assessment for Learning strategies shared in this article - clarity and conversations - are just two of the many high-impact strategies that contribute to forming a learning partnership. Student teachers and I work together to focus on the process of learning that develops and nurtures a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset (Shimmer et al., 2018). I am motivated by my observations of impact on student learning to continue learning deeply and taking risks to align theory with practice. Not only do the shifts in practice greatly impact learning, enacting theory has been an empowering way to align practice with beliefs and values. Theory breathes life into what I am trying to offer the students in my care. It helps to change the narrative of assessment from being vague, judgemental, discouraging and fear-inducing, to being transparent, purposeful, encouraging, meaningful, and supportive. 


Chappuis, J. & Stiggins, R. (2019). Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing it Right – Using it Well (3rd ed.). Pearson Education.

McTighe, J. and Wiggins, G. (2011). The Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Schimmer, T., Hillman, T., and Stalets, M. (2018). Standards-Based Learning in Action: Moving From Theory to Practice. Solution Tree Press. 

White, K. (2017). Softening the Edges: Assessment Practices That Honor K to 12 Teachers and Learners. Solution Tree Press. 

Going Gradeless

Thomas Lowe, Barriere Secondary, British Columbia
The lock-down order in British Columbia from March to May last year that saw education transition from a bricks and mortar model to exclusively online learning was not just a disruption in students’ educations, nor just a simple omission of learning. My students began to focus on the “game” of online learning and attempting to “complete” courses faster by speed-running their requirements as opposed to actually focusing on learning and skill development. This fast-food version of learning accomplishes the same thing as fast food does for your body -it satisfies the hunger, but does not nourish the body. Students had lost focus on what I know, love, and preach: learning matters, grades do not.

When remote learning began, I was teaching a small Chemistry 12 class filled with some very keen students all of whom I had previously taught. They knew my classroom culture and understood my expectations. Almost all the students had aspirations of continuing their science studies in university. To say that they became stressed when the news dropped that schools were shutting down and we were transitioning to an online environment would be an understatement. I fielded calls from concerned parents, emails from students, and a mass barrage of messages from my Moodle site. I listened to their worries, approached the situation with curiosity, and inwardly stressed how I would best serve the needs of my students. It was obvious that the main stressor for my students was that their grades would slip in an online environment. These were high-achieving students who felt like they needed good grades so they could pursue whatever program they desired in post-secondary education. I sensed a learning moment. After consulting with my principal, Angela Stott, we concluded that, given the circumstances, it was the perfect opportunity to take a fairly sizable risk. In the words of Winston Churchhill, “never waste a good crisis.”

I have been talking a big game for years about how grades don’t improve learning. These students had all been subject to many of my rants about learning over grades, and yet, when push came to shove their biggest worry was whether or not the pandemic would affect their grade as opposed to their learning. So I put my money where my mouth was and completely threw out all formal summative assessments.

I invited Angela to our first online learning session as a class and we laid everything out for our students. When told that we would follow Minister of Education’s commitment to sustaining the grade the student had prior to school shutdown, in this case all As, there was actually some initial pushback. We had two types of reactions: 1) suspicion that this was some sort of trick (“what’s the catch?”) and 2) worries about their motivation. After all, these were students who thrived on extrinsic rewards and accolades.

We again listened to the students' concerns and then presented them with some research about how extrinsic rewards can hinder things like creativity, risk taking, intrinsic motivation, and most importantly learning. In the words of Daniel Pink, “The misuse of extrinsic rewards impedes creativity, stifles personal satisfaction and turns play into work” (Pink, 2009). There was still some trepidation from the students. However, after reminding them that they would need the skills learned in the class to be successful at the post-secondary level, there was complete buy-in and we never looked back.

Initially, I thought there were going to be some serious issues, specifically with attendance. I was worried students would lose interest as the course became more academically rigorous because there was really nothing for them to lose from not pushing themselves. I envisioned students would stop showing up to scheduled zoom meetings, work would not be completed, and a general mood of complacency would bog down the class.

In reality, the opposite of all of those things happened. My attendance increased to 100%; in fact, students were asking for more zoom sessions. I started a study hangout zoom time where students could drop in and ask questions - this became their pandemic social. We created a Whatsapp group where students would answer other students' questions before I could get to them. We were growing community.

Because students were no longer required to do any of the work, I was forced to reframe work as practice and I had to explain myself and the pedagogy behind why certain tasks were more efficient than others to gain specific understanding and learning. This pushed me to cast a critical eye on all of my practices. Is this the most efficient and best use of my students' time? became a theme in my thinking and professional development. I pitched project ideas to my students which offered them voice and choice and created lasting buy-in. Through this, my students gained study skills, learning how to learn, and efficient learning practices that were research based.

Many students shared that learning became easier in their other classes as well. Projects and assignments were rarely poorly done and many students admitted to spending way more time than they normally would by adding details and supplementary information where they normally would have done the minimum to get the grade. Maddison, a student in the class, said it best, “Before, I would just do assignments to finish them. I would copy off a friend and just hand it in for the mark. Now I can’t believe I did that; it was stupid. I didn’t learn anything. Now everything that I do, I check myself to see if I am learning” (personal communication, 2020). Also, my students told me they felt way less stressed about assignments than they had in the past because they were much less focused on getting it right or pleasing the teacher and became more focused on the purpose of the practice which was, of course, to learn. I saw increases in things like creativity, metacognition, and even risk taking.

When the course was completed in June, apart from anecdotal evidence, I wondered how I could unequivocally know that my students’ learning was better with this method and how I could quantify it. I already knew that projects, practice and check-ins for understanding were all of high quality, but I needed something that I could hang my hat on. I asked students to write the final exam. They all agreed. When the tests were completed and graded, the students scored 15% higher than my previous class scores. This, coupled with anecdotal evidence and a researched base, told me that taking grades out of the learning equations has so much potential. We need to take a critical look at the outdated model of carrot and stick extrinsic motivation of grades and learning. We know that extrinsic rewards and punishment really only work for the short term and destroy many of the things that we are looking to nurture in our students. So why do we do it? Compliance? Competition? For me, this sounds like the perfect way to turn off so many of our students and goes counter to the message and culture which we are trying to grow.

“Grades, with them or without them, they aren’t what matters. At the end of the day, it’s learning that matters” -Taylor, BSS student 2020.


Dale, E. (1969). Audiovisual Methods in Teaching (3rd ed.). New York: Holt, Reinhart & Winston.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive. New York: Penguin Group

A Marveller's Mindset Meets Mandated Curriculum with Four Guiding Principles

Misty Paterson, Author and Consultant, British Columbia
"Every day, in a hundred small ways, our children ask, ‘Do you hear me? Do you see me? Do I matter?’ Their behavior often reflects our response.”

L.R. Knost

If you work directly with children and youth, you’ve likely heard the heart-wrenching question, “Why don’t you see me?” Being ignored or feeling invisible hurts (Williams, 2008). Feeling acknowledged and supported is hugely important for human thriving (Benson, 2011). As a practising teacher-researcher and pedagogical consultant, I am keenly aware that conversations about learning, and what learners value about their learning, matter a great deal to students (Paterson, 2010). This short article is dedicated to positioning assessment observations and conversations as a relationship-enhancing process for learners and teachers. I hear you asking: How might we hold space to truly see our learners and center our conversations with them in a context with competing demands and mandates, even if momentarily?

We can become “professional marvellers,” of course!

Anne Pelo and Maggie Carter, inspired by Loris Malaguzzi (Vecchi, 2010), offer the term “professional marveller” (Pelo & Carter, 2019, p. 59). Being marvellers means that we become researchers of children’s learning experiences. “If we believe... that the purpose of education is to cultivate dispositions for critical thinking, glad collaboration, imagining, inventing, questioning, and investigating, then…[w]e strive to honour educators’ capacities to be professional marvellers, to be researchers curious about and compelled by children’s thinking” (Pelo & Carter, 2019, p. 59). When I put my marveller hat on, I instantly feel lighter and happier. I’m open to notice joy, activate wonder, find value, and kindle novelty. I am energized. These positive emotions imbue the assessment experience, creating a feeling of expansiveness. I believe that positivity amplifies our assessment capacities.

Nel Noddings (1984) reminds us, the goal of pedagogical conversations is to be fully present with each learner by attuning to the learner’s experience.  Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate four guiding principles to frame my conversations and observations with learners. They have become my guides-on-the-side to nudge thinking in real-time with learners of all ages.  I call these principles The 4As. I’d like to introduce you to them with the story of how they came to be.

Dr. Anne Phelan, Professor at the University of British Columbia, paved the way for me to think about criteria as guiding principles, as something beyond an evaluative checklist. Dr. Phelan was my Master of Arts (in Cross Faculty-Inquiry) supervisor. She was also instrumental in my role as an Adjunct Teaching Professor and Faculty Advisor in an inquiry-based cohort. Through our inquiry seminars, I learned that an academic inquiry aims to be three qualities:

  1. generous (multiple perspectives), 
  2. generational (studied over time), and 

  3. generative (leading to new learning). 

To ease my cognitive load, I simplified these aims to three “Gs.” I then adopted these “Gs” as a key part of my advising approach.  For example, during my faculty advising conferences with preservice teachers, I proposed questions like, “How might we broaden the perspective the children are taking to include diverse viewpoints?” 

Questions, inspired by the Gs, transformed the debriefing session into an academic inquiry rather than passing a judgement like, “good lesson.” I noticed teacher candidates declaring new insights like, “Oh! I didn’t even realize we were perpetuating a stereotype!” Very quickly, the Gs became guiding principles to consciously deepen learning in meaningful, responsive ways. Bonus: they were also easy to remember! Over time, I added a “G” for Genuine and officially renamed them “the 4As!” (If you would like to see the comprehensive rubric that further inspired the 4As, check out the Galileo Network Inquiry Rubric at:

What are The 4As and what assessment goals do they nurture?

Framing learning around The 4As puts learners first with a marveller’s mindset that nudges thinking. 

As shared in my story above, I used The 4As as guiding principles to drive conversations about learning.  Today, the 4As help me put learners and learning front and center, to cradle and cherish the learning experience. We’re all familiar with the hard work of assessment. The 4As are a tool to do the “heart” work of assessment!  I’d love to give you a better taste of The 4s by looking closely at one principle: Abundance.  The remaining 3 As (Authenticity, Awareness, and Anew) are detailed fully in the second edition of my book, Pop-Up Studio: Responsive Teaching for Today’s Learners. The book is available for purchase at: along with additional supportive materials. 

One 4A in Detail: Amplifying Abundance as a (Professional) Marvellor 

There are so many ways to think about this!

An abundant mindset is desirable for both students and teachers because it evokes the spirit of generosity and respect. We can honour and contribute to the multitude of ways we can come to know and respond to the world through our senses. As such, Abundance embraces the power of diverse and multimodal thinking. We meaning-make when we engage abundantly with the world around us. For example, every space and every material has its own inherent design, its own story. As Cope and Kalantzis (n.d.) explain, we impress meaning into spaces and objects but we also reconstruct meaning as we engage with these resources. We then leave traces of meaning behind through our choices and our creative applications. 

Embracing the notion of Abundance means that, “whenever you come upon even the seemingly most trivial of things, it can be experienced, or taken up, or read, or treated as a way into the ways of the world” (Jardine, 2006, p. 100). For instance, if we are at the supermarket, we might explore the design of the space, the flow of traffic, the beauty of tidy displays, the trade routes taken to procure exotic produce, the dynamics of exchanging money for goods, etc. The lens of Abundance can reshape what may seem mundane or even trivial at first glance into a transformative investigation.

Why nurture Abundance as an assessment criteria with today’s learners?
Youth born between 2010 and 2024, known as Generation Alpha, are “the most materially endowed generation ever, the most technologically savvy generation ever, and they will enjoy a longer lifespan than any previous generation,” (McCrindle, 2020). And while researchers like Dan Woodman, a sociology professor at the University of Melbourne, caution against forcing the wide range of human experience into generational labels and characteristics (Pinsker, 2020), young people today are certainly growing up in a world quite different from that of their parents and teachers.

Today’s learners are growing up in the digital age where technology is changing at an exponential rate. Multiliteracy (being literate in multimodalities) is essential to navigate the way we live, work, and play, especially in a continuously volatile marketplace (New London Group, 1996; Cope & Kalantzis, n.d.; McCrindle, 2020). Understanding the design cycle at play between us and the materials that surround us will continue to be important. 

Generation Alpha is participating in an increasingly complex global population. As such, young people need to have the social/emotional and cognitive tools to appreciate, respect, and engage with people and systems whose ideologies may conflict with their own. For example, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, professor emerita, Ohio State University, coined the phrase “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” as a way to explain the power print media has in shaping identity and theory of mind. She says:

Children need to see themselves reflected [in mirrors]…to look through other worlds to see how they match up or don’t match up to your own [windows]. But the sliding glass door allows you to enter that world as well.”(Reading Rockets, 2015).

When I confer with young people, the general consensus is that they want formal learning to be hands-on, but they also desire harder work. My students say they want learning to be “beyond marks” (Paterson, 2010), meaning, they want “school” to be a place where they are seen as capable of taking on challenges that have a tangible impact. They want purposeful and meaningful learning. “Observe and listen to children when they ask ‘why?’ They are not simply asking for the answer from you. They are requesting the courage to find a collection of possible answers” (Rinaldi, 2004, p. 2).  

 Abundant thinking helps me find purpose and meaning in assessment conversations. It helps me to address questions like: How might I awaken new possibilities when a learner seems stuck or disengaged? How might I nudge thinking to new depths? How might I help students become assessors of their own learning experiences? Assessment questions like these can keep us up at night. Guesswork is stresswork. But if learning is something that learners do, then we need tools and competencies to tap into how students’ interpret their learning experience. May The 4s serve to do this  heartwork. May an abundant mindset unleash new possibilities for assessment conversations in your context. Let’s get marvelling shall we? 


Benson, P. (2011, April 22). Sparks: How youth thrive [Video file]. Retrieved from

Cope, W., & Kalantzis, M. (n.d.) Representation, communication and design [Transcript of video file]. Retrieved from

Galileo Educational Network. (2016). Rubric for discipline-based and interdisciplinary inquiry studies [Rubric]. Retrieved from

Jardine, D. W., Friesen, S., & Clifford, P. (2006). Curriculum in abundance. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

McCrindle, M. (2020). Understanding generation alpha [Blog post]. Retrieved from

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92.

Noddings, N. (2003). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education (2nd ed.). Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Paterson, M. A. (2010). Living inquiry as pedagogy (Master’s thesis). University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC. Retrieved from

Pelo, A., & Carter, M. (2019). From teaching to thinking: A pedagogy for reimagining our work. Lincoln, NE: Exchange Press.

Reading Rockets. (2015, January 30). Mirrors, windows and sliding doors [Video file]. Retrieved from
Rinaldi, C. (2004). The relationship between documentation and assessment. Innovations in early education: The international reggio exchange, 11(1), 1-4.

Vecchi, V. (2010). Art and creativity in Reggio Emilia: Exploring the role and potential of ateliers in early childhood education (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

 Williams, K. D. (2008). Teaching and learning guide for: ‘Ostracism: The kiss of social death.’ Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(3), 1539-1546. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2008.00101.x
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