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

From Our Blog

In our work, we often talk about learning and assessment in terms designed to help us wrap our head around what is considered best practice. We talk about practice time and game day when discussing formative and summative assessments. This was game day for those kids, their guests, and their teachers. Read more...
Save the Dates
6th Annual CAfLN Conference and Symposium
May 2-4, 2019
Delta, BC

Registration now open!

President's Greetings

Lorna  M. Earl, Ph. D

Hello all CAfLN members.  Welcome to 2019.  And we also hope to welcome you to the CAfLN 2019 Conference in Delta, B.C. in May. As always, we are very excited to be travelling to another part of our wonderful country to connect with colleagues and share what we are learning about AfL. 

You might wonder why an annual conference is part of our vision for CAfLN.  When Damian, Ken and I began talking about CAfLN as a concept a few years ago, we envisioned linking educators from across the country to create a pan-Canadian network. We wanted to connect people who are passionate about using assessment to foster and deepen learning for students – teachers, administrators, policy makers and researchers. In our experiences across Canada, there were many of them, but they were often working in isolation and felt lonely in the work. CAfLN was intended to give these cutting-edge educators a forum for sharing and learning from one another and a community of support for their work.  An annual conference made sense to bring CAfLN members together face-to-face to share their learning and consolidate relationships, ideas and projects. 

Bringing CAfLN members together is certainly a worthwhile undertaking, in itself, but an annual conference is also a way of spreading the knowledge about AfL more broadly and to provide local professional development.  With this in mind, the conferences have been held across the country in communities where CAfLN members believe in AfL and want to engage their colleagues.  The first CAfLN conference was in Winnipeg, then Nanaimo, Kingston, Saskatoon, Dartmouth and now Delta.  The presenters are all members of CAfLN, the conferences are advertised in local areas and the formats are designed to engage the audience in serious conversation and planning about AfL practice and theory.

Please join us in Delta May 2-4, 2019.

One Question, Two Responses

How are assessment for learning and feedback connected?
Response #1 Rose Pillay, Educational Consultant

In 2012, I heard Tom Schimmer present on assessment for learning at a conference. It was the first time I heard the phrase: “Assessment is not a spreadsheet, symbol or scale – it is a conversation.” If assessment is a conversation then feedback is the language, the “responsive communication between students, parents, and teachers on where students are in their learning (“Where am I now?”) and what students need to do to improve (“Where to next?”)” (A Framework for Classroom Assessment, 2018). Six years later and concurrent with the competency-driven upgrades to the BC curriculum, Tom is now contributing to webinars and videos aimed at enriching our assessment fluency. (Follow the link to view the first video: Assessment Literacy in BC

What if teachers approached learning like a doctor approaches healing? "The teacher is no more able to transfer knowledge into the minds of his students than is the physician to transfer health into the bodies of his patients. The physician’s art must imitate and assist nature’s own healing processes." (Bond, 2015). As part of a teacher’s art (toolbox, repertoire), feedback assists the student’s own learning processes and “encourages them to recognize their successes and to set learning goals, further engaging them in the learning process”(Facilitator’s Guide to the Video: Assessment Literacy in B.C, 2018). Inviting students into this iterative, interactive, and deliberate dialogue between master and novice significantly improves achievement and positively influences learner self-efficacy. 

Rooted in a collaborative relationship, where the teacher knows the student and the student trusts the teacher, feedback is an assessment for learning strategy that helps teachers accompany the learner in their learning. This form of responsive teaching that employs feedback as a continuous process of conversation and reflection accompanies students in becoming motivated, independent, and self-regulating learners. Consequently, teaching using formative feedback, supports students in internalizing the assessment for learning conversation. Developing their own critical eye as self-assessors who ‘think like a teacher’, students are not just improving their work but growing as confident life-long learners. Done well feedback is both informative (changes the current or future work) and transformative (changes the learner).
BC Ministry of Education (2018a). A Framework for Classroom Assessment. Retrieved from

BC Ministry of Education (2018b). Facilitator’s Guide to the Video: Assessment Literacy in B.C. Retrieved from


Response #2 - Dr. Christine Younghusband, Assistant Professor, UNBC

Assessment for Learning (AFL) attempts to answer three questions:
  1. Where are you?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. How are you going to get there?
The main objective of AFL is to “leverage learning” for students, that is, to “bridge the gap” from where they are to where they need to be. Students and teachers rely on ongoing formative feedback to answer these three questions. Thus, feedback serves as a mirror to reflect what students know and understand, what students are expected to achieve, and what strategies students can do to “meet expectations.” Feedback can be formal or informal. It could be a conversation between the student and teacher; it could be peer editing; or it could come from a co-created rubric.
Getting information from the demonstration of learning only establishes where the student is. This alone is not enough to leverage learning. Feedback should also provide information as to where students are expected to be and how to get there from where they are. In AFL, feedback is a two-way process where both students and teachers benefit. Feedback forms and informs learning for the learner and the assessor. On the one hand, the learner determines if they met expectations and how to move forward, if needed. On the other hand, the assessor identifies if the learner achieved what the teacher intended and uses this information to inform pedagogy, practice, or next steps to support student learning. This mirroring process is iterative until the gap is closed. Then, it’s onto the next learning experience.
All students want feedback to know how they are doing and how to get better, if needed. Teachers need feedback (from students) for the exact same reasons.

Try This!

Melissa McFarlane, Kindergarten Teacher,  North East School Division, Saskatchewan
Young children love looking at photos and samples of their work, which makes documentation in the early years so important. Making photos, videos and work samples available to students allows young learners to reflect on what they are doing well and to create a plan for improvement.

On the first day of Kindergarten each year, I have students write their name and draw a self-portrait, then add them to a book with a page for each month that students can access all year. We use individual whiteboards many times to practice a number of writing tasks, including writing letters and numbers, drawing people, and adding details. Each month students review their previous months’ self-portraits and identify one thing they will improve on for this month’s work.

CAfLN Member Profile

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

Who are you?

Dr. Paige Fisher

How do you spend your days in relation to education?

I work in the Faculty of Education at Vancouver Island University. In my role I work with pre-service teachers in teacher education programs and with practising teachers who are pursuing their Master’s in Educational Leadership. I also spend a significant amount of time in support of professional learning for in-service teachers in the central Vancouver Island region.

Why Assessment for Learning?

One of the most powerful aspects of Assessment for Learning to me is the ways in which it can support all learners to become ‘Strong Poets’ (a term borrowed from Tom Barone). A strong poet is someone who has the skill and the confidence to write their own life story rather than accepting, as truth, the numbers and letters that traditional assessment systems attach to them. A learning environment that is grounded in assessment for learning is characterized by mutual respect, meaningful learning relationships and deep learning.

Why the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network?

Although we are beginning to see the evidence of transformation in education systems, particularly in British Columbia, it is clear that we still have a long way to go in becoming a fully ‘assessment literate’ teaching population in Canada. The benefits of formative assessment are so significant and the strategies that we can use to support our practice are so evident, that this gap is a bit of a puzzle. The issue is important from a social justice perspective and it is urgent. It is not good enough for us to accept that not all learners are able to benefit from the support that allows them to become self-advocates who are empowered in their learning and rich in self-knowledge. As Lorna Earl has noted, we have much further to go before educators fully embrace the ‘spirit’ not just the ‘letter’ of formative assessment. A national network that provides a space for dialogue and shared learning and advocacy around formative assessment has the potential to keep a focus on AfL at the forefront of innovations in Education.

Welcome Members

April McKnight BC
Fiona Fraser BC
Irene Chang BC
Vicci O'Neill BC
Brenda Wilton SK
Jennifer Carter BC
Rosalind Poon BC
Heather Goodall BC
Kathleen Keil BC
Melanie Midgley BC
Amy Halliday BC
Louise Krohman BC
Pippa Olivier BC
Lori Jeschke SK
Francine Emmonds BC
Richard Ready BC
Louis Volante ON

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

Let's Continue the Conversation!

Strong networks develop through great conversation and the CAfLN team would love to support these conversations in any way we can. With this in mind, each month, we will introduce a question or topic and we would like to invite members to visit the CAfLN Facebook page to offer contextual thoughts and ideas. We are hoping to look at complex issues from many perspectives and build a shared understanding of assessment for learning and what it means within a Canadian context. This month's question is:

What are challenges associated with engaging in assessment for learning? Why is this not yet a universal practice?

Jump on over to our Facebook group and tell us what you think!

Visit our Website to find out more about CAfLN!
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