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Canadian Assessment for Learning Network Newsletter, 
February, 2021

Contents

  • Editor's Greeting
  • Assessment 20/20 Conference
  • Aligning our Values and Action: Putting the Focus on Learning
  • A Message from the Founding Members
  • Reflections on the CAfLN Conference Day One
  • Le monde de l'immersion française: Les aléas de l’évaluation
  • AGM nominations and volunteer applications
  • Resources

Editor's Greetings

Katie White, Saskatchewan

I will admit, I was tired on the morning of the second partnership CAfLN and AAC conference day at the end of January. I had spent every day of the previous two weeks in front of my computer, Zooming into schools and district offices and my eyes were feeling more than a little buggy. The importance of "pulling it together' was not lost on me--I would be offering twenty minutes of reflection as part of the opening panel for the conference, alongside two esteemed colleagues (Damian Cooper and Jeff Catania, no less!) So, I poured myself a coffee, took a deep breath, and sat down at my computer.

That is truly the last time I felt even a moment of fatigue. As soon as Justin Green and Michele Jones opened up the day and Damian began his heartfelt reflection, my attention was captured. Session after session, I listened to speakers engage participants in deep thought around assessment for and as learning. I heard important questions and searching responses in the open spaces and I listened to colleagues share their excitement and vulnerability during thoughtful Breakout Room conversations. I saw presenters taking risks and engage participants in new ways. It was a magnificent day.

As always, the beauty of the N in CAfLN is not lost on me. The Network is what continues to grab my attention and hold it. The people are why I return to this group again and again. CAfLN members care deeply about education. They care about assessment and role it plays in learning.  Most of all, they care about the students we all serve. Being around people who share my passion for assessment is just about the best way to spend a day.

There is one final conference day on May 8 and I encourage you to spread the word and join in on the fun, conversation, and wonder. If you have been attending, you know what I mean! This is what CAfLN is all about. After the conference, join us for our Annual General Meeting and learn more about how to become involved in supportive or leadership roles within the CAfLN organization.

In the meantime, I offer another newsletter, which captures the spirit of our amazing network. In here, you will find diverse perspectives, passionate curiosity, and valuable information both in English and en francais (thanks to one of our passionate French language members). Enjoy!

Aligning our Values and Action: Putting the Focus on Learning

Caitlin Fox, Instructor and Practicum Coordinator, University of Alberta and Red Deer College Collaborative Program 

Educators who attended the CafLN and AAC conference held in November, 2020 and January, 2021, explored a number of focusing questions, specifically: What can we do in our schools/classrooms to shift our focus from grades to learning? How can we support students in this transition? and perhaps most importantly, how do we, (as teachers, educators, instructors, learning designers…), focus on learning rather than grading? I would like to suggest that this last question requires a look inward. 
 
Consider a personal anecdote:

I like to think that I value connection over task; relationships are important to me. However, this value is often called into question when tasks require my attention. My loved ones often observe me putting the tasks (answering emails, doing the dishes, focusing on work) ahead of us being able to connect and spend time together. I sometimes feel challenged to align my value of connection with my actions that are focused on my to-do list. Because of this, it is important for me to keep my values at the forefront of the choices that I make so that my narrative is aligned with who I am and what I value. 
 
Consider your narrative: 

What do we believe is the purpose of assessment and grading? Do our beliefs and values align with our actions? Do we live and breathe the values we hold about the teaching and learning process? When the words we speak and the actions we take are focused on number crunching, grade collection, and feedback after the work has been submitted, then our and the students’ focus will never be on learning. It will continue to be on the next number generated on the next assignment, project, or test. Students know what we value by what they observe in our actions and our words. If all they hear is ‘this is for marks’, ‘this will be marked’, then the student focus will be on ‘the marks’. As well, if feedback remains with the teacher during the long nights (and weekends) of marking and only provided to the students after they have completed the task, the feedback is lost. Therefore, the focus is on the mark; not the feedback we provided.
 
What if we changed our narrative? What if students could observe that we are more focused on the learning process. What if we spent more time sitting beside our students and offering feedback while the work is in progress, rather than wasting countless hours providing feedback after the learning has occurred? 
 
How and what we evaluate demonstrates to our students what we value in assessment and the learning process. The Alberta Assessment Consortium provides an excellent visual framework for assessment design and invites us to answer questions to help to understand our purpose and inform our actions. Where we spend our time within this cycle matters. These actions are our values. When we think about where we spend our time, is it in the planning and coaching phase, or do we live in the judging and reporting phase? Students do observe our actions. Their observations tell them where we are focused and where they, too, should be focused. 
 

Alberta Assessment Consortium, Assessment Cycle (retrieved January 2021)
 
From the students’ observations they will create patterns of behaviour and make predictions on what the focus is in the learning process. This sparks the question: What patterns and predictions do students see/experience from the actions taken in the classroom that promote a focus on learning versus a focus on grading?  (McTighe and Willis, 2019) 
 
Looking inward may bring discomfort. It is not always easy to align our values with our actions (see personal anecdote). We say that we want our students to learn, to be active participants in the process of learning and assessment and yet, we continue to see practices that do not align with this value. We continue to see the number crunching, the averaging out, and the phrase ‘do this and we will receive this mark’ (sense of compliance). So, I ask the question again, how do our values align with our actions that we actually demonstrate to students in the assessment process? 
 
The following provides ideas of how educators can explore their own narrative, to ensure that their actions align with their classroom assessment values. 

  • Identify what you value and how you see your role in the teaching and learning process. 
  • Plan with Purpose
    • Reflect on your actions in the planning and coaching stages of assessment design.Take time to truly, and deeply, think about your values in the assessment process. Develop a clear path of action that aligns with your classroom assessment values. 
    • Focus on the outcomes (skills and knowledge) in the design process - not on grades that are created over simple and not important things (name in right hand corner, 5 sentences instead of 4 - this is compliance not learning).
    • Consider your assessment practices from the student perspective - Is what I am asking them to do worthy of the time and energy it will take and is aligned with the intent of the learning outcome? 
    • Create opportunities for students to transfer learning of knowledge and skills to new learning opportunities.
  • Focus on formative feedback - This goes beyond checking for understanding in a lesson that informs your instruction. Formative feedback while the work is in progress encourages thinking about learning and keeps a focus on the learning (Bennett and Mulgrew, 2010).
    • It is a fore-thought to provide feedback to students to help them understand where they are in their learning, where they need to go, and how to get there. This is not an after-thought of ‘nice to know’ information that isn’t helpful for the current learning or task at hand. (Black and Wiliam, 1998) 
  • Evaluate with intention and care and design quality evaluation tools 
    • Trust your professional judgement to include other forms of evaluation (Triangulation - observation, conversation and product). 
    • Move away from only evaluating facts and allow opportunities to evaluate skills using the knowledge/facts.
    • Use a rubric for more than a point system. Focus on anecdotal and qualitative comments versus quantitative data (we do this 2 out of 4 times compared to we consistently or thoughtfully demonstrate said skill while demonstrating knowledge of said knowledge/content).
  • Create time and space in your lessons to: 
    • Provide formative feedback (teacher, peer, self)
    • Create goals focused on reaching criteria and learning targets 
    • Reflect on, and have conversations on, the goals created
    • Focus on the progress of learning not only the end result 
    • Communicate student learning, to students and parents, have the narrative be on the progress of learning not only the end result, make this visible and celebrate it 
  • Model and foster a growth mindset - Consider the patterns and predictions that your students currently have with a focus on grading and learning. What actions can you take to help your students unlearn habits focused on grading and relearn habits focused on learning? 

How teachers spend their time speaks to what they value. Do our values align with the actions we take in the assessment design process? Are our values what our students observe during the teaching and learning process? Where do we spend our time with the students (planning and coaching, more than judging/reporting)? This is an invitation to break free from the constraints of focusing on grades and put what you value at the heart of what you do, focus on student learning, the reason we are here in the first place. What I hope for each of us is to continue to reflect on what, and where, we are spending our time in the assessment process. Look inward, how do we focus on learning more than grading? Let our values take priority and let them guide the intentional actions we take.  
 
References 
 
Alberta Assessment Consortium, Assessment Cycle (retrieved January 2021). Used with permission from AAC Executive Director, January 2021. 
 
Black Paul, & Wiliam Dylan. (1998). Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment. The Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139–148.
 
Bennett, S., & Mulgrew, A. (2010). Scaffolding for student success. Alberta Assessment Consortium.
 
McTighe, J., & Willis, J. (2019). Upgrade Your Teaching: Understanding by Design Meets Neuroscience. ASCD. 

A Message from the Founding Members

Damian Cooper, Lorna Earl,  Ken O'Connor

As the three of us were chatting last week, we realized  that next year-2022-will be the tenth anniversary of the founding of CAfLN. It’s tempting to use the cliché, "Time flies when you’re having fun." However, most of us would agree that whatever description we might afix to 2020, it would NOT be fun. These have been, and continue to be, the most trying times most of us have experienced in our lives – as educators, as parents, as loved ones, as citizens of this wonderful country.

Yet despite the challenges we face, our network managed to attract the largest number of delegates in our history Day One of our virtual conference, "Assessment 2020", organized in partnership with the Alberta Assessment Consortium. Delegates registered for the conference and after the success of November 21, we received numerous additional requests to register for Day Two on January 23 and Day Three on May 8.

Our agenda on January 23 included our Annual General Meeting which followed immediately after the conference program for the day. We kept the AGM brief but we urge all our members to attend our next AGM on May 8 to learn more about our network and to consider getting more deeply involved by joining one of our many committees. CAfLN is only as strong as its members. We rely on you to nurture, grow, and expand the network.

In 2012 when the three of us began discussing the idea of a pan- Canadian organization that would connect educators who shared our passion for assessment, we agreed-upon several goals:
  • To connect like-minded educators wanting to expand the implementation of assessment for and as learning
  • To mentor the next generation of Canadian leaders in assessment
  • To forge closer connections between educators in the K-12 sector with those in post secondary settings
  • To promote Canadian research into assessment for and as learning through K -12/faculty of education partnerships
Over a few short months in 2012, our mission emerged:

We are dedicated to nurturing and sustaining assessment for learning and educational institutions in Canada.

The following statements from the "About CAfLN" page on our website identify the specifics of who we are and what we do:

CAfLN is an opportunity for Canadian educators everywhere who are interested in assessment for learning to connect with one another, share knowledge, and move the AfL work in Canada forward.

CAfLN is a network of members who interact with one another because of a commitment to the shared purpose of strengthening the quality and the power of assessment for learning across Canada.

CAfLN is voluntary, flexible, and highly adaptable to unique and varying social, political, and educational contacts.

CAfLN provides a form for engagement that is dynamic and driven by the interests and work of the members. The linked nature of the work, and the quality of participation in the shared space of the network enriches our work.


One of the main purposes of CAfLN is to establish relationships that act as the connective tissue of assessment for learning across Canada. Through these relationships, CAfLN members work together, share knowledge and challenges, create a common language and a sense of shared responsibility, and provide channels for communicating and disseminating information to one another and beyond.

So why get involved beyond basic membership? Listen to what some of our board members say about the CAfLN experience:

Rosiland Poon: Being a part of the CAfLN board has been a great way to connect with like-minded assessment individuals from across the country. It has truly been amazing to discuss assessment practises across different jurisdictions, and to explore how we can support student learning that is timely, meaningful, and relevant.

Katie White: Being a board member with the CAfLN organization fills my cup in so many ways. I get to talk about assessment with people who feel as passionate about AfL as I do. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime and every year that I continue to be involved means another year of new connections and diverse perspectives. AfL is what got me hooked and the network is what keeps me coming back year after year.

Justin Green: My time with CAfLN has been, and continues to be, a source of challenge and sustenance. Working with this hodge-podge of educators from across our nation has challenged my thinking in myriad ways, and has ultimately changed my practice in the classroom. How often have I participated in Professional Development only to leave sessions with a tidy package of materials to be filed away and forgotten? CAfLN goes beyond a handy package of materials. The conversations I've had the pleasure of participating in, and the relationships I have built, have changed how I view and approach teaching. Meeting with, what I consider to be, the foremost thinkers and practitioners in the country has been one of the highlights of my 23 year (and counting) career. It's also comforting to know that people who have devoted their life's-work to Assessment grapple and struggle with the same thoughts around what's best for student learning as I do. I am not alone. I'm a phone call, email, or virtual meeting away from some pretty outstanding educators. And for this, I am most grateful.


As founding members, we feel great pride and satisfaction with what CAfLN has become in just shy of ten years. We are indebted to the amazing educators who have accepted the baton from us, strengthening the work that we started, but also initiating directions that we had never imagined. We look forward to connecting with all of our current members, as well as welcoming new members during 2021, whether through our website, our Facebook group, on Twitter (@CAfLNetwork) or in person. Please stay safe and take care of each other.

Reflections on the CAfLN Conference Day One

Various educators, Prairie Spirit SD, Saskatchewan
 
Presenting at this year’s CAfLN conference was one of the most exciting events of my professional teaching career.  Not only was I able to share my personal assessment story but it was comforting to know that there are other like-minded senior math teachers out there that are trying to stretch the idea of what assessment can look like.   It was a very personal experience for me, exposing my assessment practices to dozens of strangers but it was extremely gratifying as well.  Getting other educators’ opinions and personal stories from the chat let me know that my story resonated with others.  That was the goal of my presentation, to let other educators know that they are not alone, that there are other teachers trying to shake things up as well.  An extremely rewarding experience that I would recommend to every teacher!
 
Kevin Cumming
Teacher
Aberdeen School
Prairie Spirit School Division

One of the things I learned from both presenting and from sitting in on other presentations is that it can be difficult to draw engagement and verbal interaction out of participants online.  I found myself later comparing presenting online to adults to being online with my students. How do you create the illusion of being together?  Everything for me seems to always come back to relationship building.  We have to work just as hard to build those relationships online as we do in person.  Somehow, though, we have to do it within minutes in an online conference scenario.  I don’t know the answer to this challenge, but I think it starts by not presenting as though I’m behind a podium.  I need to present as though I’m one of the participants, one of the learners, and create an atmosphere in which it is not they (the participants) who are with me, but rather, it is I who is with them.
 
This was a very positive experience and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it.  This has really made me think about how to present in future both to students and adults as to how I can create an online environment that draws engagement in itself.  When you’re online, you can’t just rely on the content to be engaging, the environment has to allow for it, the illusion of togetherness must exist.

 
Ms. Kendra Worman
Music Education Facilitator
Prairie Spirit School Division

Although I have presented many times on documenting, presenting virtually created a whole new experience. I felt nervous about the use of technology as this was the only method available and it is not always reliable. I now feel more confident in the use of presenting through a virtual platform and have learned many technical lessons along the way. I also appreciated watching the way in which fellow presenters utilized the platform and would like to learn more about the technical possibilities that exist for future presentations.
 
Planning a presentation for an audience that you know nothing about was daunting. I typically cater my presentations to the group I am working with which was not an option. My process for preparing was different than what I would typically do. From start to finish, my presentation changed immensely which has never happened to me before. I reflected on what I have loved about presentations that I have attended either virtually or in person. I found that I appreciate information that is research based that I could refer to later, but I also enjoy hearing the reality of practice and the stories that accompany that. This then became my goal as I prepared my presentation.
 
There were several early learning presentations that I attended. I enjoyed being able to see what early learning educators are practicing in provinces across Canada in comparison to what we are doing here is Saskatchewan. It was wonderful to connect with educators that I have connected with through social media but never spoken to. There are several relationships that I believe will continue through platforms such as Zoom or Teams.
 
This presentation was uncomfortable for me to do which surprised me, but I believe an experience that causes discomfort leads to growth. Throughout this year I have become more familiar and comfortable with technology and this was another steppingstone in that journey.
 

Jennifer Mason B.A., B.Ed., M.Ed.
Learning Support Facilitator & Teacher
Prairie Spirit School Division

Le monde de l'immersion française: Les aléas de l’évaluation

Nathalie Fournier,École Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan

La lecture représente l’apprentissage le plus important de nos jeunes élèves. En milieu minoritaire francophone, l’enjeu est d’autant plus grand puisque la langue de Molière n’est souvent utilisée qu’en milieu scolaire où l’apprentissage du vocabulaire usuel ne bénéficie pas du support d’expériences authentiques et signifiantes. Alors la question que je vous pose aujourd’hui, chers collègues, est celle-ci:

Croyez-vous que la Trousse d’Évaluation de Lecture GB+ chez Chenelière est un moyen approprié pour évaluer les capacités de lecture de nos jeunes élèves d’immersion française en milieu minoritaire?

Ne vous méprenez pas, j’apprécie beaucoup cette ressource pour évaluer les niveaux de lecture de mes élèves francophones cependant, depuis ma venue dans le merveilleux monde de l’immersion française, je me questionne sur la validité des résultats obtenus par mes élèves. Je vous entends, vous dites très haut que les gouvernements ont abaissé le niveau de lecture pour les élèves des programmes d’immersion en comparaison de leurs homologues francophones. Oui, oui, je suis déjà au courant. Ce n’est pas le hic, mais plutôt celui-ci; le vocabulaire utilisé dans chacune des merveilleuses histoires (oui, mes élèves les adorent, et moi aussi!) est, je trouve, conçu pour les élèves dont la langue première est le français, dans un contexte majoritaire.

Certains de mes collègues francophones, nés ici en Saskatchewan en milieu francophone minoritaire, viennent me demander la signification de certaines des expressions utilisées ou de certains mots exploités dans les petits livres de la collection de GB+. Alors, si des adultes, ayant fait des études postsecondaires ne comprennent pas le vocabulaire, comment peut-on s’attendre à ce qu’un élève du primaire peut être capable de lire l'histoire, d'en comprendre la signification, s’il ne peut comprendre le vocabulaire. Parce que ce sont les mots qui donnent vie au texte, qui font vivre les émotions, qui ajoutent la magie dans l’histoire et qui permettent ainsi la compréhension de celle-ci.

Y aurait-il d’autres façons ou d’autres outils que vous connaissez ou avez utilisé en ce qui a trait à l’évaluation sommative des niveaux de lecture chez les élèves du primaire en immersion française? Je fais appel à vous, chers collègues de l’immersion française en milieu minoritaire pour éclairer ma lanterne. CAfLN est avant tout un réseau qui permet l’entraide entre les artisans du monde de l’éducation en tout ce qui touche l’évaluation et ses multiples facettes, alors servons-nous en !! Vous pouvez envoyer vos commentaires sur le site de CAFLN ( https://cafln.ca/contact-us/) , sur notre compte Twitter: #cafln ou Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CAfLN/   
 
À bientôt !!

We Need You: CAfLN AGM Nominations & Volunteering

Greetings Colleagues,

You’re Invited!

It’s that time of year, once again, for CAfLN to scan for volunteers to fill our various committees. We are inviting each and every one of you to consider putting your own name forward for one of our positions within the network.

CAfLN is completely run by volunteers from across our nation. We are only as strong as the volunteers who give their own time to strengthen and broaden our amazing network. We have a variety of different committees for you to consider, including: Communications, Membership, Research, Resources, CAfLN Inquiry Groups, and Conference Planning.

If you are interested in seeing how you can become more involved in CAfLN, head to cafln.ca, look under the MEMBERSHIP tab, find the link to VOLUNTEER, and check out the committee descriptions. Who knows? You may find a spot that fits you like a glove… or maybe you’re looking for a new challenge! Whatever your passion, please know that you are most welcome to join us in any capacity you can afford.

By volunteering, you will be joining an amazing group of passionate and thoughtful educators dedicated to promoting quality assessment practices across our nation's education systems. CAfLN is all about deepening our connections and sharing our learning. Maybe you too can be part of the team that helps create the space for these authentic and meaningful conversations to occur!

To sign up, click Here. You will have to login with your email address and password. You can also find your way by clicking on MEMBERSHIP → MEMBER’S NETWORK → VOLUNTEER on our website menu.

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