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Canadian Assessment for Learning Newsletter, 
January, 2020

Editor's Greetings

Katie White, Coordinator of Learning, Author, and Educational Consultant, Saskatchewan

Greetings and welcome to a new year. I always feel refreshed when January rolls around--there is something about taking stock of where I am in relation to where I am headed that motivates me. In fact, my January reflections mirror the power of strong assessment for learning. The clarity of both our goals and our current state can be inspiring. There is a sense of optimism and hope that rests in this kind of comparison when we imagine tangible actions we might take to move us in the direction in which we are strivng. 

I am excited to share this month's newsletter with all of our subscribers. The content and perspectives offered from across Canada this month continue to explore the nuances of assessment for learning. The art of AfL rests in these nuances and we always strive to share examples, research, and ideas that explore formative assessment from multiple perspectives. I hope you will share the power of our Canadian network with your colleagues. Subscribing to this newsletter is free and can be done easily through the newly designed Canadian Assessment for Learning Network website.

In this issue, Bruce Mellesmoen reflects on the impact of assessment on learner confidence. Classroom teacher Trina Crawford, and educational instructor Nina Pak Lui, explore the ways assessment for learning builds teacher efficacy. Math coach, Lana Steiner looks at ways differentiated assessment can address student needs. Author and educational consultant Tom Hierck explores how to focus on those things over which we have control and those we do not. We meet CAfLN member Kent Brewer and, lastly, a group of students offer their insight into how to master assessment.

January is also a great time to look forward to our annual Canadian Assessment for Learning Conference. This year, we will gather in Edmonton from April 30 - May 2. We are partnering with the Alberta Assessment Consortium, a long-standing leader in effective assessment practices. This yearly event is always powerful, engaging, student-focused, and filled with opportunities to network with amazing educators from across Canada. We hope you will join us. Visit our website for more details. 

Please enjoy this month's newsletter and, more importantly, work with us to share the importance of assessment for learning in designing learning experiences that lead to growth, meaning, and student investment. Let's work together to make education everything it holds potential to be. Thanks for reading!

CAfLN and AAC Conference

 

One Question, Two Responses

How does assessment for learning build up student ownership in your classroom setting?

Response #1 - Trina Crawford, Grade 5 Teacher, Regina Public SD

 

In our Grade 5 classroom, assessment practices have become ingrained in all aspects of our learning day. Students are active participants in all points along the learning journey.  We rarely use the words “marks” or “grades,” instead focusing on common positive, descriptive language, which involves students in their continual growth and improvement.  Since respectful relationship-building is critical, and such a big part of who I am as a teacher, the trust-filled environment allows for honest conversations and respectful feedback. These conversations allow the students time to consider their progress and ultimately be instrumental in charting their own course.  I believe that students all want to be successful and the ones who choose to not be involved in their progress are very rare.

Most of my assessment revolves around choice, feedback, reflection, and independence.  Our curriculum is mandated, but I always try to give choice for projects, demonstrations of learning, and options for showing mastery.  Tests are almost non-existent.  Students are made aware of ‘what’ they need to learn. They can be shown examples of the Indicators from the Saskatchewan Curriculum to give them ideas of how they can demonstrate their mastery of the required Outcomes, but they are not restricted to those. Beyond student-specific adaptations, choice is also given within assignments, allowing students to determine the questions that will be completed (within a framework). When it comes time to share samples of work, they are able to look through their own portfolios to personally assess and choose their “best” work. Choice is also extended to learning spaces, materials and media, and independent vs. partner/group work. Choice enables the students to be critical of their own work, but also teaches prioritizing, decision-making, and self-awareness. 

Gathering assessment data relies on daily interactions consisting of speaking to students or having them demonstrate learning in various ways.  In both literacy and numeracy, using a balanced approach with whole group, small group, and individual conferring times gives me the opportunity to have conversations with students in different situations.  This is a time when students can receive feedback from both peers and their teacher.  Giving feedback is a skill that is explicitly taught as well as modelled in order to create a safe, respectful process. Students are taught about our 4 descriptors that are used in reporting - Established (ET), Meeting, Progressing (PR), and Beginning (BE) and these are used consistently when students reflect on their work.  We use the analogy of “Make me a cupcake.”  Demonstration of outcomes can be assessed on the scale from “Beginning” to “Established” depending on how well they are able to meet the expectation (Meeting) of handing in a “cupcake,” even if it is slightly imperfect. Students may be anywhere on that spectrum, from not being sure what to do with the ingredients (BE), needing support to bake the cupcakes (PR) or extending what they know by creating a cupcake trifle or teaching the baking assignment to someone else (ET.)  Identifying where they are on this continuum helps them to be self-reflective and assists in being successful.

Rubrics and provided exemplars also allow students to compare their work with what is expected.  Many rubrics are co-created with the class and are shared in our Google Classroom and on Seesaw to be shared with families, as well.  Rubrics allow students to not only check their work before they submit it, but can also help if they decide to “bump up” their mark by taking another crack at it, after receiving feedback and suggestions.  Providing time to share - work by students, shared classroom work, examples provided by me - provides modelling, scripts, strategies and techniques to improve work or demonstrate deeper understanding or connections. Peer-to-peer, peer-to-class and peer-to-teacher sharing are all used frequently. This process creates an opportunity for buy-in and ownership in assigned tasks.

In our class, assessment is participatory and relies on independence as well as collaboration. It is creating critical thinkers who are self-reflective and willing to grow and change. It is respectful, complex, creative, sometimes messy, and always evolving.  

  Response #2 - Nina Pak Lui, Assistant Professor (Teaching Track), TWU

For the first time, preservice student teacher’s critically analyze aims of the provincial curriculum and use Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design (UbD) framework to create their first curriculum plan. This is no easy feat; the semester often feels like students and I are climbing a steep mountain together, and along the way, students are trusting the guide (me) to walk alongside them to reach the summit. 
 
If I define “ownership” as the level of investment, efficacy, and agency a student has in their learning, the following ways build up student ownership in the third year curriculum planning class I teach in the School of Education at TWU: 
 
Using Examples and Models of Strong and Weak Work
I bring a basket full of recent exemplars. At first glance, student teachers feel overwhelmed; many cannot imagine designing a curriculum plan by the end of the semester. However, student teachers remain optimistic because learning is scaffolded and they realize that the design process is guided, flexible, creative, and manageable. Frequently, in small groups, students examine exemplars of specific aspects of UbD we are focusing on and developing. For example, when the class is learning how to write Enduring Understandings (EU) and Essential Questions (EQ), students review examples and co-create a criteria that would describe a well-written EU and EQ. Using exemplars clarify concepts, and from my observations, students gain a greater sense of confidence to apply their learning independently.   
 
Regular Descriptive Feedback
Providing opportunities to make learning visible and offering feedback occurs frequently during class time. I use an app called Mentimeter where students anonymously submit drafts of their own exemplars. This makes it possible for me to provide immediate descriptive feedback to the entire class and helps them make informed decisions about their next steps in the curriculum planning process. We also use vertical non-permanent spaces to collaborate with classmates. As students work together, I circulate and chime in with descriptive feedback or probing questions. Large whiteboards allow me to easily scan and see where students are at and I strategically visit with groups who need my support the most. To ensure that learning is accessible to ALL, I also cancel classes mid-semester and host conferences; students are invited into a conversation about their learning. Time together is invaluable; voices are heard and often emotional and intellectual needs are met. Face-to-face conversations challenge false assumptions I have of students and remove barriers that are invisible during class time. When I ask students which strategies help them practice the skills and knowledge being taught in class, many of them suggest that immediate descriptive feedback received from the strategies above result in greater confidence to transfer and apply their learning in their own time. 
 
Teaching Students to Self-Assess
During the semester, criteria that clarifies proficiency is co-created and made accessible. Students are encouraged to use the criteria as a self-assessment tool. When it is possible, students are given class time to provide peer-feedback using the criteria and they make plans for focused revisions to their drafts. Students have the tools and clarity to self-assess where they are at, identify areas of strength, and set goals for growth as a future curriculum planner.  
 
If student teachers were asked how ownership is built in my classroom setting, I hope they would say that they feel respected and cared for as whole persons. In Softening the Edges: Assessment Practices That Honor K - 12 Teachers and Learners, Katie White says, “Assessment can support hope, efficacy, optimism, and joy.” She also states, “Assessment is a window into our students’ hearts and minds. It is a way for us to hear their voices, determine their engagement, gauge their passion, and validate their growth.” These words of wisdom influence the architecture of my assessment for learning practices. Student ownership is possible  because I believe in them and strive to make responsive instructional decisions. I walk alongside students and ensure they reach the summit. They do, each and every semester! 
 

Should there be crying in assessment?

Bruce Mellesmoen, Principal, Waldheim School, Saskatchewan

As she walked by the office, you could see she was carrying the weight of her entire world on her shoulders. Muscles in her face strained as she did everything she could to stop the tears from bursting forward. She tried to remain strong.

I jumped from my chair and swung open the door, and as she hurried by, heading for a hiding spot. I asked what was wrong. I wasn’t sure if she would stop, she seemed fixated on her destination, but to my surprise she did. She turned and looked at me as the water began to pool in her eyes, and she just shook her head. I asked her to come into the office area, away from other kids. No sooner had she sat down in an office chair, than tears began to flow, and she dropped her head and sobbed. I feared the worst. What had someone said or done to her? Who hurt her? I asked her again what was wrong, making sure the admin assistant and VP were within earshot, a common practice we adopt in the office.
 
“I think I failed my test,” she quietly said, not wanting to look at me. You could see the shame and hear the sadness in her voice. Instantly I was relieved. Failing a test, while devastating to her, was news that was so much better than the myriad of possibilities that could have been causing her this distress. Our conversation continued, and she went on to explain why she was so upset. She spoke at length about the frustration she felt because she failed while all of her friends likely “aced” it. She talked about her future and how helpless she felt because of this test. Would this derail her aspirations for a career in agriculture? Would this mean she would have to change all of her course selections for next year? Would this result mean that what she always felt, that she wasn’t as smart as her friends, was correct?
 
As adults, we might look at this and say she was overreacting and just needed to get over it. After all, it was only one test. She could just chalk it up to experience and move on. But she couldn’t. She was so distraught that she could not even think straight, she could not see anything but that grade. Is this how we want our kids to walk out of our building? Is this how we want our students thinking about themselves? As failures?

If you asked her friends, they could write pages of reasons why such was such a great person. A stellar athlete, a friend to all, a hard worker, funny, bright, curious, conscientious, helpful, caring-- the list could go on and on. None of this mattered at this moment, however. In her mind, she was none of these things; she was just a weak math student. She defined herself as a 48. As is usually the case, a heart to heart with the administrative assistant had her smiling and looking at the world in a different light. She was still upset that she had failed, but after the pseudo counselling session, she was determined to do better next time. She understood that she had another chance another day. As we all shared some Starburst candies, you could see that all she needed was someone to talk to. All she needed was a shoulder.
 
This situation weighs on me. Are these the feelings we want our assessments to create? Should a test or a paper or a project really have this large of an impact on someone? Should it bring out emotions you would expect from someone who may have had a falling out with a best friend? Is that what assessment is all about?  If assessment and emotion are going to be intertwined so closely, why should a “high grade” elicit elation while a “low grade” creates distress? For so long, we’ve viewed mistakes as ‘bad’. We’ve created a system where learning is not the goal; instead, high grades are the goal. 
 
When we assess in a way that puts students’ emotions on the line, this can lead to situations like the one described above. An assessment had brought a girl to tears. I’ve seen students do other things in the face of an assessment battle; things like plagiarism or cheating. Students do this, I believe, because the value is not in the learning but rather is in the ‘score.'
 
So what are we to do? How are we to undo what has been created over years and years of education in a system built on an industrialized model? Some would argue it is not broken, and that if it was good enough for them, it is good enough for today’s students. Some would say that kids are too soft and we coddle them too much. I wish those people could have heard the story of the young learner describes above.
 
Some thoughts:
 
1.    View assessment as a way of informing teaching, not as a tool to capture what a student knows. Often assessments are a snapshot in time that is captured by using a tool (test, quiz, exam, questionnaire) that looks the same for every student and is administered to every student at the exact same time. Assessment should be primarily used to tell the teacher what worked, what did not, and what our next steps need to be.
 
2.    Question our use of final exams. A forward-thinking history teacher has completely changed how he approaches his final evaluations with his students. His ‘final’ consists of a project that invites the students to use the information they have discussed as a group during the course to support an argument. Students are not memorizing dates and names of events and people that have no meaning to them only to satisfy the multiple choice questions on the final. Instead, they are asked to synthesize and apply their learning. Imagine that... teaching kids how to formulate an informed opinion! Why are we still having a high stakes final exam? And, if we are asking them to, are we clear on what it is they are going to be asked to share, or do we want them to play the game of predict what the teacher will ask?
 
3.    View mistakes as a gift. What if a student who looked at his paper and saw 100% thought, “Darn it, now the teacher won’t know what I’m really struggling with”? What if the same student who looked at his paper and saw 48% thought, “Yes! This will tell the teacher what I need going forward. Now my teacher will know just what to do to challenge and engage me!” What if teachers viewed 100% and 48% like that as well?
 
I do not have all the answers, and the more time I spend in this profession, the more questions I have. All I know is what I saw in a young learner does not sit well with me. There is a fantastic kid sitting somewhere right now with a narrative rolling through her mind based on a failed math test. She is telling herself she’s not as smart as the other kids. She is wondering if her dreams for the future are in jeopardy because she may not be able to ‘do the math’.  That bugs me. If this bugs you too, what might you do about it?
 

Network Member Profile

Kent Brewer, CAfLN Executive Member
Who are you?

Current Director of IT at River East Transcona School Division in Winnipeg. Former curriculum consultant, department head, teacher (once a teacher, always a teacher; never former). In the “interesting to some, but not others” category, Red Seal Electrician, NHL and AHL Off-Ice Official, trekker/climber of mountains, golf, biking, hockey and lover of dogs.

How do you spend your days in relation to education?

Working with what I like to call “the system” both internal and external. My days are spent with any and all people that have a vested interest in education and supporting the success of students. Most times these conversations begin with technology and quickly move to the endless opportunities that our learners are faced with today.

Why assessment for learning?

With endless opportunity through endless pedagogical approaches, the one anchoring and consistent aspect in learning, whether you’re a student, teacher, admin or community member etc., is AfL. The ability to be supported through the reflection process of where you are and setting goals regarding where you want to be, with a clear plan of practice in attaining that goal.--this is essential to the success of not only the students, but the entire system. Even more exciting is linking technology to that process. During no other time in the history of education have we been so fortunate to have technologies that can meet the needs of each and every student while supporting them as an active participant in learning and therefor assessment.

Why the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network?

Early on in my career I was fascinated by anything dealing with assessment for learning. The ability to influence my classroom practice with things I was reading and watching via people like Guskey, Wiliam, Wiggins and CAfLN’s very own Earl, Cooper and O’Connor, proved to be invaluable to my students’ level of success. Growing a Canadian network to share research and best practice in assessment for learning will play a pivotal role in the development and consistency of classrooms that are accessed by all Canadian students.

Differentiating Summative Assessment to Support Equity in the Math Classroom

Lana Steiner, Math Coach, Good Spirit SD, Saskatchewan

***Please note that this article is the first of two to be shared through CAfLN.  This one is highly theoretical and lays the groundwork for the second article which will demonstrate how theory unfolds into practice.***

Three concepts – equity, differentiation, and formative assessment – are embedded in the question, “How can educators differentiate summative assessment to support equity in the mathematics classroom?”  Each of these has been researched and written about in great detail.  Jo Boaler has conducted extensive research on equity in the mathematics classroom.  Similarly, Carol Ann Tomlinson has made significant contributions to education with her work on differentiated instruction and Dylan Wiliam has done the same with formative assessment.  However, there is little research that ties the three concepts together in a manner that explicitly answers the question, “How can educators differentiate summative assessment to support equity in the mathematics classroom?”

What is Equity in the Context of the Mathematics Classroom?

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) states, “Our vision of access and equity requires being responsive to students’ backgrounds, experiences and knowledge when designing, implementing, and assessing the effectiveness of a mathematics program. Acknowledging and addressing factors that contribute to differential outcomes among groups of students is critical to ensure that all students routinely have opportunities to experience high-quality mathematics instruction, learn challenging mathematics content, and receive the support necessary to be successful.  Our vision of equity and access includes both ensuring that all students attain mathematics proficiency and increasing the numbers of students from all racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic groups who attain the highest levels of mathematics achievement” (2014, p. 60).  Similarly, Aguirre, Mayfield-Ingram and Martin assert that “all students, in light of their humanity – their personal experiences, backgrounds, histories, languages, and physical and emotional well-being – must have the opportunity and support to learn rich mathematics that fosters meaning making, empowers decision making, and critiques, challenges, and transforms inequities and injustices.  Equity does not mean that every student should receive identical instruction.  Instead, equity demands that responsive accommodations be made as needed to promote equitable access, attainment, and advancement in mathematics education for each student” (2013, p. 9).

From these definitions of equity, one ascertains that equity and equality are NOT synonymous.  Equality in the classroom results in all students receiving the same supports regardless of need.  Students are perceived as passive learners of mathematics.  Conversely, equity honors students by acknowledging and responding to their unique holistic beings.  Equity in the mathematics classroom involves coming to know the learner and understanding how to leverage that knowledge to broaden and deepen that student’s mathematical thinking and understanding.  

What is the Connection between Differentiated Instruction and Formative Assessment?
 
Ontario Ministry of Education asserts that in order “to sustain the effectiveness of a differentiated instructional approach, it is critical to conduct ongoing, authentic assessment, and then to adjust strategies and resources according to the assessment results” (2013, p. 19).  The connection between formative assessment and differentiated instruction is also underscored by White: “When we engage in timely formative assessment, we are offered insight into our learners’ strengths and the specific steps needed to help students reach the next phase of their learning journeys.  Furthermore, strong formative assessment supports flexible grouping by need, which leads to learning experiences tailored to each student.  This kind of flexible response to student needs is called differentiation” (2017, p. 106).  However, it is Laud (2011, p. 2), referring to the work of Tomlinson, who distinctly outlines the connection between formative assessment, differentiated instruction and equity:

Formative assessment has been defined as teachers or students using data as a basis for decisions about next steps to take toward achieving learning goals, and to then make instructional decisions that are better than those that would have been made without this data.  When using formative assessment, differentiation is the natural next step.  Carol Ann Tomlinson has defined differentiating instruction as an organized, flexible, and proactive approach to adjusting instruction so that it best meets the needs of all learners and promotes maximum growth for all.  Aiming to achieve this goal is the core of equity, which is the first of the six principles of high-quality mathematics education recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.” 

As illustrated, it is without question that formative assessment is an integral component of differentiated instruction.  Furthermore, knowing precisely what a student knows and does not yet know allows the teacher to provide instruction that is tailored to that specific student thus ensuring equity in the classroom as well.

What are the Differences and Similarities between Formative and Summative Assessment?

Throughout the literature, there is consensus that the distinct difference between formative and summative assessment lies in their purpose.  Callingham (2010, p. 1) differentiates between the two when she writes, “The assessment focus may be summative in nature providing a snapshot in time of mathematical competence or achievement.  Alternatively, it may be formative and used to change teaching and learning approaches.”  Referring to the work of Wiliam, NCTM (2014, p. 94) echoes this as well: “What ultimately distinguishes assessment processes as summative or formative is how the results of the assessment are used. The defining characteristic of formative assessment ‘is that evidence about student learning is used to adjust instruction to better meet student needs’ (Wiliam, 2007b, p. 191)”.  Lastly, White (2017, p. 139) not only differentiates between the two, she also explains the position of each within the learning cycle:

Summative assessment is part of a multifaceted cycle of learning…  We start with preassessment and strong exploration of learning goals in ways that honor students’ needs.  We offer practice and learning opportunities to develop students’ confidence and encourage deep understanding.  We engage in formative assessment, feedback, and self-assessment regularly.  Only after all this do we verify proficiency with summative assessment.  It is at this point that we make professional judgements…”  

Noting this explicit difference of purpose is critical.  However, it is also important to note that the literature does not attend to differentiating between strategies to collect data for formative assessment purposes and strategies to collect data for summative assessment purposes.  Thus, it is possible to adopt the strategies that are commonly used for formative assessment for summative assessment purposes.  No longer are teachers bound to pen and paper tasks as their only form of summative assessment as is tradition in the mathematics classroom. 
 
 Works Cited
 
Aguirre, J., Mayfield-Ingram, K., & Martin, D. B. (2013). The impact of identity in K-8 mathematics learning and teaching: Rethinking equity-based practices. Reston, VA: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
 
Callingham, R. (2010). Mathematics assessment in primary classrooms: Making it count.  2009- 2018 ACER Research Conferences, 7. Retrieved from https://research.acer.edu.au/research_conference/RC2010/16august/7.
 
Laud, L. E. (2011). Using Formative Assessment to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction, Grades 4-10. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
 
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2014). Principles to actions: Ensuring mathematical success for all.  Reston, VA.: National Council of Teachers of  Mathematics.
 
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2013). Learning for all: A guide to effective assessment and instruction for all students, kindergarten to grade 12. Toronto: Ministry of Education. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/LearningforAll
2013.pdf.
 
White, K. (2017). Softening the edges: Assessment practices that honor k-12 teachers and learners. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Welcome to OUR HOUSE

Tom Hierck, Author and Educational Consultant

In my recent book, Managing Unstoppable Learning, I focus on what all educators need to do to ensure learning for all students in a positive environment. In my work with schools over the last two years I have zeroed in on the notion of welcoming students to “Our House”. The analogy I am trying to impart is that we have the opportunity to help all kids learn and grow if we accept the only things we have control over occur when they arrive to school – our house. Educators have no control over the other house kids live in and we should stop lamenting what goes on there, or, even worse, using the evidence of a lack of school-supporting strategies occurring in their homes to justify why the student can’t/won’t learn. It sounds something like this: “Of course Tommy uses inappropriate language. That’s all he ever hears at home, and his parents don’t support our work.” How about we turn that around and instead commit to expanding the positive vocabulary of every student in our house? The lack of support in Tommy’s home should not be a deterrent; it should be a call for us to redouble our efforts. I am certain at this point in your career many readers of this post have had a student they looked at and thought about taking home to improve the situation. That’s not an option. Making our house a positive place where we ensure all students learn and grow, academically and behaviourally, is a more logical solution.
 
It’s safe to say that no educator sets out to do something that will only be accompanied by predictable and preventable harm. My colleague Chris Weber and I have shared in various Response to Intervention (RTI) books the notion that “if you can predict it, you can prevent it”. How then do we move beyond the minimum and towards the belief that not only can ALL students learn, they can learn at high levels? The answer lays in the tools we use and the monitoring of the success of those tools. Good assessment design and practice provides the evidence educators need to diagnose, prescribe, and monitor. As educators, one of the key questions we must confront is this – Are we evidence gathering or number chasing? The power of formative assessment – using assessment design to monitor student understanding and instructional effectiveness – is lost if the goal is calculating a number or letter. In fact, I would further suggest that if the objective is a number or letter, most educators will have gathered enough data in the first month to accurately predict the final standing of each student. If, instead, the goal is ensuring all students learn at high levels, then formative practice should be the desired route. Ideally, we’ll take the same approach to behaviour as we do to academics – gather evidence, design an instructional approach, and monitor the results.
 
There is a caution to this approach that also needs to be addressed and that is related to the familiarity many educators have with school and the structures therein. While focussing on the desired academic and behavioural attributes requisite in our house, we must also embrace that houses have changed over time and we can’t be establishing our house expectations based on parents’ pasts, but instead must work towards students’ futures. Dominique Smith, Douglas Fisher, and Nancy Frey (2015) explain how this familiarity affects our decisions:
 
While our collective hearts as educators are in the right place, we tend to make decisions based on past experience. After all, we began our on-the-job training as teachers when we were five years old. Our beliefs about school, classroom management, and discipline have been shaped by decades of experience, starting in kindergarten. (p. 2)
 
Educators need to be forward thinking in the attributes that will assist students becoming successful, contributing adults. Expectations such as respect, responsibility, and safety will always be components of successful adult lives, and combined with basic literacy and numeracy skills, will springboard all of our students towards an adult life built on success. Schools should work towards creating the positive environments that allow for these to thrive.
 
It’s critical that there is monitoring of instructional strategies based on evidence as opposed to instructional design that is based on one-size fits all - I taught, they didn’t learn. The mythical average student really does not exist in any classroom I have been in. We have ample evidence prior to a students’ arrival in any classroom. Most educators would agree that in a typical classroom, the range of ability, prior knowledge, external support, and output runs the full range. So why would a “middle of the academic spectrum” instructional and assessment approach result in anything different than the grouping a teacher began the year with?
 
How then do we go about establishing the collective commitment of our school team to make this happen? A whitepaper by Hierck and Peterson (2017) notes that, “Positive climates arise from the practices and rituals implemented and encouraged within a school. Students learn appropriate behavior in the same way they learn how to read – through instruction, practice, feedback, and encouragement” They go on to suggest that the use of positive behavior management practices is related to the following outcomes:
  • Student academic engagement
  • Decreased disruptive behavior
  • Increase in the intrinsic motivation of students
  • Increased math and reading achievement
  • Development of self-management skills
  • Increased positive verbal interactions
  • Decreased negative verbal interactions
  • Decreased transition time
  • Increased peer social acceptance
  • Decreased referral rates
  • Happier, more resilient students
 
Identifying the outcomes is an important part of establishing the practices that are required. Teachers are often faced with the dilemma of clarifying what behaviors lead to these outcomes. In order to assist with this, data sets were collected over a seven-year period that chronicled more than 152,000,000 behavior instances, as identified by teachers, at 645 schools. These identified behaviors had a positive impact on students and their learning:
  • Showing Pride in School
  • Collaboration
  • Kindness
  • Takes Pride in One’s Work
  • Leadership
  • Helps Others
  • Uses Time Wisely
  • Being Prepared
  • Love of Learning
  • Makes Good Choices
  • Active Listening / Engaged
  • Cooperation
  • Uses Appropriate Communication
  • Caring
  • Self Reliant
  • Perseverance / Resilience
  • Making an Insightful Comment
  • Organization
  • Above and Beyond
 
Intentionally noticing these behaviors, intentionally teaching these behaviors, and intentionally celebrating the successes, starts to establish what goes on in our house. This is about all students, not just those who may be struggling, as we collectively work to improve their life chances. We may not have any control over where our students come from or the experiences they’ve had. We have complete control over shaping where they are going to, arming them with the requisite skills to get there, and developing their resiliency to commit to the journey.
 
The oath doctors take includes the notion that they will “do no harm”, I believe as educators we must “add more value”. It’s not enough to say that, figuratively, no one died at the end of your instruction. After ten months with a brilliant educator like you, it’s reasonable to expect the student to be in a better place academically, behaviourally, and social-emotionally than before they had ten months with you. Assessment and instruction are two sides of the same coin with each driving the other. Knowing and accepting this is the “value-added” every student should receive and should be part of their welcome to OUR HOUSE!
 

The Final Word: From Students' Perspectives

Chantel Hoag & Jolie Munteanu, Grade 11 students, Ecole Gravelbourg School

Top 5 tips for helping students succeed on an assessment.
 
        
Life as a teenager is stressful enough without the constant worry of your attaining your academic goals. In order to ease some of the anxiety attached to assessments, here are some tips through the eyes of grade 11 students:
  1. Understanding the assessment. It is very important to fully grasp what the assessments asks of you. Some key components to comprehending the assessment are using the rubric or asking for your teacher’s expectations.
  2. Revise and edit. Although you may hear it all the time from teachers, it is essential to revise your work and make changes to better the outcome. This could mean making multiple drafts or even putting it through an online grammar check.
  3. Enrichen your vocabulary. The words you use set the overall level and tone for your assessment. There would be value in using a thesaurus, a dictionary, or any other resources that can aid you. It’s truly quality not quantity.
  4. Time management. Life can be very busy, and assessments can easily be left to the last minute. It is crucial to be proactive and begin early. If you have something started, it gives you plenty of time to add information to enhance your work.
  5. Understanding a teacher’s style. Every person has different opinions and styles. It’s important to understand your teacher’s preference, as they are the ones assessing you.
In conclusion, finishing up your assignment and giving yourself plenty of time to fulfill the assessment to the best of your abilities is a success in itself. Remember to ask questions and give it your all. Good luck, peeps!
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