Welcome to the Canadian Assessment for Learning Newsletter November 2018. 

From Our Blog

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost six months since the CAFLN conference in Dartmouth and that there is still so much energy here as a result of this event.

I still can’t stop talking about the keynote; it was simply superb! But I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that the initial idea was more than a little risky. The implementation had to be just right. 
Read more
Save the Dates
6th Annual CAfLN Conference and Symposium
May 2-4, 2019
Delta, BC

Registration opens on Nov. 1, 2018

President's Greetings

Lorna Earl, Ph.D.

In the early 2000 I was compelled to write a book.  The title was Assessment As Learning: Using Classroom Assessment to Maximize Student Learning. [1]  I had to write it because the ideas were filling my brain and disturbing my sleep.  The only way to have some peace was to write them down and share them.  I still believe deeply in them and have spent much of my professional life talking about them with educators around the globe. So, I decided to write about them again for this CAfLN Newsletter and hopefully stimulate more conversation among the members of this fabulous pan-Canadian network.

Investigating the Prepositions

Although the prepositions (of, for and as) associated with assessment are compelling, I fear they have lost their punch and become trite mutterings.  So, let me examine their meaning.  I am most interested in assessment for learning, so let me start there. Assessment for Learning has been defined as: 

Practice in a classroom is formative to the extent that evidence about student achievement is elicited, interpreted, and used by teachers, learners, or their peers, to make decisions about the next steps in instruction that are likely to be better, or better founded, than the decisions they would have taken in the absence of the evidence that was elicited. (Black & Wiliam, 2009, p. 9)

As I studied and was actively engaged in a wide range of AfL projects in classrooms, I noticed something.  The teachers were questioning, observing, probing, reframing, and investigating the learning of individual students in their classes.  When I asked about what they were doing and why, the response was: "Figuring out what is going on in her head,” or, “Trying to understand why he didn’t get it.  I thought the lesson was really clear.”  This was AfL in action.  But, there was a missing piece.  The Black and Wiliam definition included “learners or their peers”.  In the classes that I was watching, it was teachers who were soliciting the evidence and using it, but not the students.

What is Assessment As Learning?

These observations moved me to thinking about a subset of assessment for learning that I called assessment as learning – the kind of assessment that recognises students as active, engaged and critical assessors who make sense of information, relate it to prior knowledge and use it for new learning.

[In Assessment as Learning] Students are not only contributors to the assessment and learning process.  They are the critical connector between them.  The student is the link.  Students as active, engaged and critical assessors can make sense of information, relate it to prior knowledge and master the skills involved. This is the regulatory process in metacognition, in which students personally monitor what they are learning and use the feedback from this monitoring to make adjustments, adaptations and even major changes in what they understand (Earl, 2003 p. 25).

This is student involvement in assessment.  Students learning from their active engagement in assessment tasks - monitoring their own understanding during instruction; assessing their current t status; planning next steps; offering peer feedback; and tracking, reflecting on, and sharing learning progress and achievement.

Student involvement in assessment as a process in their learning is an essential part of make assessment work for student learning.

When teachers focus on Assessment as Learning they use classroom assessment as the vehicle for helping pupils develop, practise and become comfortable with reflection and with critical analysis of their own learning. Viewed this way, self-assessment and meaningful learning are inextricably linked (Earl, 2003).

In Assessment as Learning, I suggested that assessment in schools was traditionally one in which most of the assessment was assessment of learning (for grading and reporting), with less attention to assessment for learning and almost none to assessment as learning. I hope you can see why I was (and still am) obsessed with these ideas.  If we could flip the pyramid and make learning the primary activity, it would revolutionize teaching.   But mostly it would revolutionize learning.

[1]The second edition is currently available  Earl, L. (2013) Assessment as Learning: Using Classroom Assessment to Maximize Student Learning 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press

One Question, Two Responses

How can I use assessment for learning to make my instruction more responsive?
Response #1 Grant Page (Retired band teacher; CAfLN organizational lead)

In music education, I use actionable feedback to move learning forward for both students and myself. I want my students to have voice in their learning, think meta-cognitively and provide me with next steps in instruction. I believe we should be partners in learning. So here is something I have done with students that strengthens learning for both myself and my students.

I begin by telling my students: “If I give you feedback, it is only one set of information. If we give each other feedback, there are potentially 60 pieces of information that may feed our learning.”

I give the students sticky notes and ask them to respond to a question or two about their band’s performance of a section or a piece of music. An example might be: “What is one area of strength and one area of weakness in our playing of this piece?”

They are prompted to be specific with both strengths and weaknesses and reminded of pre-established criteria. The sticky notes are shared, sometimes in a think-pair-share prior to being posted in my room. The sticky notes are categorized by the co -criteria that has been previously agreed upon by the learners, for example, intonation, playing correct pitch, playing accurate rhythms etc.

Strengths are celebrated with a reminder that these standards need to be maintained. Over time, the weaknesses are discussed and actions are taken to strengthen our understanding or our execution.

The benefits include:
  • Everyone has a voice in the assessment. Students appreciate the opportunity to have the voice and also to find out that their peers often feel the same way that they do. They also learn to be more respectful of each other by making sure they feel safe in honestly expressing themselves.
  • Students can get very specific with their feedback sometimes to the measure or even a particular note. They are brutally honest!
  • The students’ sense of ownership often changes the trajectory of their learning.
  • Their assessments and reflections provide me with the next steps in their learning. The students are setting the plan moving forward and my role changes from the “voice from the podium” to a facilitator of their next steps. It is actually a time saver, my planning is focused and the purpose of successive rehearsals is clearer to all.
I also use a variation of this reflective learning when reporting student progress. The question broadens to include individual as well as group strengths and weaknesses, providing the basis for richer conversation during rehearsals and anecdotal information that I use for reporting purposes. When students begin learning to play their instrument in grade 6, I start to establish a culture of goal setting, self-assessment and actionable feedback. By grade 8, that culture is embedded in our learning time and most students are able to provide much of the anecdotal information I need for their report cards.   
Response #2 Jim Pai (Secondary math instructor)

For me, assessment for learning is not individual events or tasks that are unconnected to other aspects of our practice.  Instead, it is more like a set of philosophies that include, for example, that everything we do can be assessment for learning, and can contain opportunities for making my instruction more responsive.  With that as context, I can elaborate a bit on some of the ways that this philosophy can help improve my responsiveness to my students. 

First, this frame of mind encourages me to improve my noticing (Mason, 2002), so that I can, for example, reflect on the ways that I might provide feedback as students work collaboratively. 

Second, knowing that any moments may contain opportunities for assessment saddles me with the responsibility for honouring the importance of the nuances in my teaching practice.  These nuances might include considering a variety of ways I might introduce a problem.  Do I describe it verbally? With a diagram? With manipulatives? Are the students standing in a circle around me? At their seats?  These decisions all open doors to different possibilities. 

Lastly, the abundance of opportunities can also be freeing for the messy and busy roles we play during classroom activities.  There are infinitely many ways that we might, for example, introduce a problem, and what follows is heavily dependent on the context, the teacher, and the students. Recognizing that there are so many different possibilities and that no particular possibility is 'the best' allows me to experiment with different approaches and reflect on the processes and outcomes.

CAfLN Member Profile

Each month we will profile one of our members, asking them four questions about themselves and assessment for learning

Josh Ogilvie - CAfLN Member - Burnaby, BC
My name is Josh Ogilvie and I am a high school physical and health education teacher and department head. I began my teaching career 17 years ago and have taught in New Brunswick (where I was born), Ontario, and in British Columbia for the past 14 years. Throughout my career I have been very fortunate to have taught in a variety of contexts and subject areas which have helped me develop a strong appreciation and understanding of the teaching and learning similarities and differences that exist within our school communities.
As a physical and health education teacher I get to enjoy my days helping students to explore and learn about the various concepts and competencies related to the development of a healthy and active lifestyle, both now and in their future. A key feature of our daily learning experiences involves students reflecting on how they are feeling coming in to class, what they are learning, how they are progressing, and how it might benefit them in their immediate future life.

As a physical and health education department head I get to spend parts of my days supporting my colleagues as they plan and implement the new provincial curriculum. Additionally, we share learning and assessment ideas and we are continually looking at ways to evolve our program in ways that support the needs and interests of our students.

My journey into Assessment for Learning began many years ago when Damian Cooper came to our district (Burnaby, BC) to talk about assessment and learning in schools. While he had great messages to deliver there was one challenge he posed to our district working group that created my new found desire to learn more and more about assessment: “You all know what students are doing, but what are they learning?” From this moment I can recall a new mindset forming in my head and one that began my exploration into the world of assessment.

Along with Damian Cooper, I have also been profoundly influenced by Ken O’Connor and his expertise and insights on assessment. Both of these individuals were instrumental in motivating me to learn more about Assessment for Learning and it has been a journey that has changed my life in many ways, both personal and professional.

Where I am in my journey now with Assessment for Learning seems like a different life when compared to when I began. When I realized that Assessment for Learning was the other part of my role as a teacher (not just the teaching aspect) I began to see this profession in a new light and “teaching” became a lot more fun and exciting for me. For me, helping students to understand what they are learning, how they are progressing, what steps they can take next, and why all of it might matter has really changed how I see and conduct myself as a teacher. More importantly, Assessment for Learning has created so much positive change for my students over the last 10 years of my career that it seems impossible to even begin to put it into words.

Being connected with so many amazing minds in education around assessment, and with a Canadian perspective, is an opportunity that I believe all teachers should embrace. Aside from getting to learn from and with the incredible thought leaders like Ken O’Connor, Damian Cooper, Lorna Earl, Katie White, Paige Fisher, and so many more, CAfLN really is a one of a kind national organization that can help all Canadian teachers learn from Canadian teachers on topics that we are experiencing together. Our country is very large and CAfLN makes it so much easier to learn from each other in ways that related to Canadian education and more. 

Welcome Members

Neil Stephenson - BC (new)
Dale Skoreyko - AB (renewal)
Terri Whitmell - ON (new)
Katie White - SK (renewal)

 Please visit the Members' Directory to see all current members of CAfLN

Food for Thought

We stumbled across this video that takes a look at one teacher's use of mistakes to move learning forward in mathematics.

Take a look at  Highlighting Mistakes: A Grading Strategy
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