Welcome to the Canadian Assessment for Learning Newsletter September, 2019. 

What to expect from a CAfLN newsletter

Katie White, Editor of the CAfLN Newsletter

As a member and/or subscriber to the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network newsletter, what can you expect to learn by making time to read what we send you? First of all, we are Canadian, so you can expect articles and ideas from educators across this amazing country. Classroom teachers, administrators, university educators, researchers, and educational consultants all contribute to this newsletter. Secondly, our focus is assessment for learning and assessment as learning, so you can expect information on assessment that moves learning forward by inviting both teacher and student reflection. Thirdly, we represent a network. A key goal for the newsletter is to connect educators in meaningful, personal, and intentional ways. We want our subscribers and members to feel  the power of a network that shares a passion for creating rich learning experiences. We hope you feel the energy of the network and we hope you enjoy this month's newsletter.
Save the Dates
7th Annual CAfLN Conference and Symposium
April 30 - May 2, 2020
Edmonton, Alberta

President's Greetings

Lori Jeschke, Director of Education, Prairie Spirit SD, Saskatchewan
A music teacher was heard to say, "For there to be rhythm - there has to be rests. You've got to listen to know where the rests come,"

Summer provides us with time to listen...There is a natural break in the rhythm of life for educators. This calendar 'pause' allows us to stop, even if just for a few seconds, to take a pleasurable escape--like sipping an ice cold Coca-Cola--the pause that refreshes; to receive a shot of adrenaline--celebrating a wedding; to digest or reset--like a pause in a piece of music; or to intentionally press the pause button--that moment of tension or a breath before moving on. How have you used the power of a pause this summer?

Watch this video to "hear" the power of a rest! 

Music provides us with so many connections to our work in assessment for learning! As we listen for when the rests come, those pauses can be a source of excitement or anticipation of when the next note will be played or provide a chance to digest what has already been presented. This pause creates a suspension of time, even momentarily, which creates a space for new energy when the instrumentalists come back in! What are the next steps in your own learning and the learning of your students? What evidence have you collected to help you determine those next steps? 

As we anticipate the start of a new school year, our CAfLN executive is excited about the bursts of energy that are still resonating across Canada after our CAfLN conference in Delta, BC this past May. So many sparks continue to 'ignite' the good work of educators as we look forward to this next year. We are working hard to keep those brush fires burning. We are about networking, connecting and growing as learners! We invite you to look for ways to engage in the network - send us something to include in our newsletter, let us know about an event you are participating in, share a book or article that is impacting your learning, or send us a burning question that you would love explored...

I wish you all the best for this new school year! Hoping you are feeling the beat as you get into the rhythm of impacting learning!

Try This!

Bruce Mellesmoen, Principal, Waldheim School, Saskatchewan
Assessment Analogies: AfL is Like… pictures

High school biology was a tough class for me. So tough in fact, that I ended up dropping the course after half a semester. I had imagined the class would be an adventure into the inner workings of plants and animals, full of dissections and microscope work. What I discovered, unfortunately, was that it was a class that relied heavily on dictated notes and diagrams to label, colour, and memorize. I still get shivers when I see diagrams like the Cross-Section of a Plant Cell because it reminds me of those times.

These classes were a prime example of short-term learning, and assessments that were designed with the teacher in mind, not the student. How easy it must have been to mark a test that consisted of 25 multiple choice questions and four or five diagrams to label. As a student I recall how my classmates and I would have study sessions before our exam, trying to memorize as much as we could, and then, upon completion of the test, how the information would quickly fade away.

As a group, we would wait anxiously for our results and, as was usually the case, I would be disappointed when I would see the big red number at the top of the page. Typically, I would score in the 50’s or 60’s, with the odd, surprising 70 showing up on occasion. There was no feedback on the tests, and I remember how we would go through our work as an entire class with the teacher reading the question and the correct answer from the list of four he had provided us. At the end of class, we would return the exam paper, never see it again, and move on to new learning, ready or not.

This practice was less AfL and more MoM, or Marking of Memorization. None of this is intended as an indictment of the biology teacher--he was a wonderful man who I still hold in high regard. It was the 1980’s and he was doing the very best he could with what he knew at the time.

Imagine how excited I was when I received an invitation from our biology teacher last year asking if I would have time to observe some student presentations. The big idea in 2018 was the exact same as the big idea my biology teacher from the 1980’s was trying to impart: Identify the parts of a cell and describe the job they do. It was the approach that was different--it was an approach that put all learners first. Where my teacher asked me to memorize and label a diagram, this teacher asked her students to create an analogy answering the question, a cell is like a…

This task was an assessment pieces for her unit of study. In her quest to know her learners, she had asked her students to create a product that demonstrated their understanding by using analogies. It was not the only assessment she utilized for this unit. However, according to the students I spoke to, it was the one that had the greatest impact. One student said, “It would have been quicker to just do a worksheet, and I’d probably do really well at it, but this was much more fun.” Another student said, “This was way better for me. I can’t memorize things and would have likely bombed a test. This was fun and I think I learned a lot more from doing it this way.” She invited her students to explore their understanding of cells by asking them to pick a comparison. She did not say, “Compare a cell to a house,” or “Compare a cell to a pizza.” She simply said, “Finish this analogy: a cell is like a…” This took courage as it turned the learning over to the students. They were asked to own the assessment and present it to their peers.

Sample 1: A cell is like the Death Star

Sample 2: A cell is like a cell phone

Sample 3: A cell is like a restaurant

What stood out to me, besides the incredible engagement she was able to create, was how much feedback she received as the classroom teacher. This task, combined with her observations and conversations in class and her traditional exam, provided her with evidence of her impact. “The most important thing to succeed is not just collecting the data but also reflecting on and interpreting the data with your next lesson in mind” (Hattie & Zierer, 2018, p. 22). She was able to collect and interpret this data, which impacted her teaching while simultaneously engaging her learners in what might have been an mundane memorization task.

Things to think about:
  • Where do you see analogies working in your setting?
  • Are analogies suitable for younger students?
  • In this assessment task, the teacher created a rubric for the students to help them understand what the criteria for success would look and sound like. What would be some of the indicators you would look for when using analogies? How can you maintain a focus on the learning goal?
  • If you were asked to create an analogy to complete the sentence, teaching is like…, what would you write? Why?

Hattie, J. & Zierer, K. (2018). 10 mindframes for visible learning: Teaching for success. Thousand Oaks: Corwin

Assessment for Learning

Consider examining student work for strength before scoring it or looking for student needs. This assessment for learning practice nurtures optimism for teachers and the identified strengths can then be leveraged to make student groupings to optimize the skills and understanding that already exist in the classroom. Strengths often reflect success criteria and so by highlighting them, we can revisit criteria in the most optimistic way possible.

Assessment and Inquiry

Mark Hoogenraad, Business teacher; Erica Hills, Science teacher; Courtney Beaulne, Foods teacher; and Mathieu Dotzenroth, Department Head of English, Languages, and Drama, A.Y. Jackson
Assessment and Inquiry: How Educators Can Create Conditions for Rich Assessment During the Student Inquiry Process

It was just recently that a business teacher, a foods teacher, a science teacher, and an English teacher came together to explore a cross-curricular inquiry project that strived to involve all our students. Using the parameters of ‘guided inquiry’ and the Global Sustainability Goals as tools to guide student projects, we developed a common inquiry question that we wanted all our students to respond to: “How Do We Change the World With___?" In this project, students would select one object pertaining to the course and explore how this object could be used to have a positive impact on our school, community, and the world.

The question was structured with the intention of provoking deep thought, resulting in an original answer, encouraging critical thinking, and producing an original idea. Furthermore, the learning was structured through a guided inquiry process where the teacher created the question and students selected where to find the right resources and how to design the solution and product, (Mackenzie 2018).

The response from students was overwhelming positive and provided rich opportunities for learning. Through exploring how chocolate can be used to address issues of iron deficiencies in impoverished youth, to how recycled water bottles can be used to insulate and heat homes, to how music can be used reduce stress in young people, students used the learning space we gave them to explore personally relevant topics and innovate thoughtful products and solutions that showcased collaboration and critical thinking.

Our final step in this learning experience was to host a Ripple Effect Symposium where students showcased their response to this question in an interactive and inspiring assembly to their peers and other teachers.

However, as much as these products of learning showcased collaboration, critical thinking, and innovation, as teachers we struggled to fit assessment into this inquiry process. How could we both capture the great learning happening from such a diverse set of final products and also make the development of skills explicit to students?

As experienced educators, we struggled to ‘grade’ the final product in the traditional way.  As well, the variety of approaches students took to this task made connecting to curriculum expectations diverse and challenging. It was through assessing the process as opposed to the final product that not only rich pieces of evidence of learning were captured but also where assessment was used as a learning tool. When reflecting on how to best assess the great learning we saw we came to the following conclusions:
  • Sometimes, the final product isn’t the richest evidence of learning
  • We should encourage students and also teachers to actively document the learning process and reflect on and share the skills being developed
  • An authentic audience can motivate students beyond a final grade especially during the inquiry process
  • Providing opportunities for students to share, document, and reflect on their learning during the process can yield great insight into learning
  • Open-ended metacognition questions can serve to evaluate projects that allow space for student voice and curiosity
  • The curriculum expectations that inquiry projects meet may vary from student-to-student, and this is okay
Educators Sandra Herbst and Anne Davies echo the importance of looking at gathering assessment data from a wider lens that extends both before and beyond the final product. In terms of assessment data, “Evidence can be, potentially, as diverse as the students, teachers, and the various disciplines being taught. When evidence of learning is collected from multiple sources over time in relation to the learning destination, trends and patterns become apparent,” (Davies & Herbst, 2014).

From this lens, our inquiry project, in fact, provided a much more diverse set of assessment data. In retrospect, we as educators, could have documented the inquiry process, provided opportunities for students to document learning, and have students identify explicit skills they developed through a metacognition activity. These types of assessments not only come from multiple sources but also extend through the inquiry process over time opposed to at the end when evaluating a final product.

As inquiry and experiential learning continue to be used as processes to support student learning and engagement, the role assessment plays as a tool in the learning process will also evolve. The benefits of the open-ended nature of inquiry allow for students to explore topics and ideas as well as develop skills which are personally relevant to them. As educators and assessors, our role is shifting towards documenting and highlighting the rich learning occurring during the inquiry process. Furthermore, educators need to find and foster teachable moments that make great learning and skill development explicit. Some ideas to do so might include videoing and reviewing student discussion and co-creating success criteria using authentic exemplars and examples of student learning. Other examples include having students pose intentional questions, which have them reflect on their learning, or having both students and teachers be active participants in creating a learning journal, blog, or vlog.

It is exciting times in education, made even more exciting by the different ways educators are embedding inquiry based learning into their classrooms. Those with a curiosity surrounding assessment should continue to consider the ways in which modern approaches to instruction will also shape and inform our understanding of assessment and its role in enhancing learning. 
Works Cited
Mackenzie, Trevor. Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders, & Curiosities or our Youngest  Learners, Ed Tech Team Press, Irvine, California. 2018.

Davies, Anne & Herbst, Sandra. A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting in High Schools, Solution Tree, 2014.
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