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Welcome to the Canadian Assessment for Learning Newsletter,  June, 2019 --Celebrating the CAfLN Conference. 

President's Greetings

Lori Jeschke, Director of Education, Saskatchewan
 

Hi! For the next two years, I get to be the President of CAfLN - the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network! Talk about HUGE shoes to fill but what an incredible opportunity for learning and growth! I've been part of this exciting team for the past five years and am proud of the connections that continue to build and grow across Canada in the area of assessment for learning. 

As the Director of Education for Prairie Spirit School Division in Saskatchewan, I get to live out my favourite definition of assess - to sit beside - by participating in learning with students and adults in the classroom and out, through reflection, wondering, problem-solving, and gathering evidence to feed forward learning. I hope to bring that same focus on assessment for learning in the work we get to do in CAfLN. I look forward to continuing the side by side learning across the country, delving into pedagogy, practice, and research.

The buzz of our recent 2019 CAfLN site visits, conference, and symposium in Delta, BC is still palpable and I anticipate building on that throughout the coming years. I look forward to hearing about what you are learning, how you are doing, and what you are considering as a next step for your own practice and also what you might offer as a next step for CAfLN. Please reach out to the network. We are so much better together.

This quote is a North Star for my work: "Leading change requires courage. We must consciously and deliberately work through it with grace, honesty, and humour. We do that together with our colleagues, as a team. As leaders, we must acknowledge that we will make mistakes. We must actively seek solutions while modelling how assessment for learning supports and guides our daily work" Davies, Herbst. & Reynolds (2012). 

Farm Roots Reception
and School Visits

CAfLN 2019 Symposium

Lorna M. Earl, PH.D., Past President, CAfLN
 
The CAfLN Symposium is dedicated to CAfLN members. It is an opportunity for members to go deeper and to connect with each other in ways that can have long term significance. At CAfLN 2019 in Delta, BC, the symposium was held for a half day following the conference.  It was carefully constructed by CAfLN Secretary Denine Laberge to bring people from different backgrounds and different parts of the country together to examine their Assessment for Learning beliefs and practices and reflect on their learning from the conference.  It is also the venue for a brief AGM.

Throughout the morning, Denine had the attendees engaging in discussion around 3 big prompts:
  • In assessment, I would not want to do without...
  • Making Connections
  • The turning point in my assessment journey...
It was exciting to be there. The conversations were rich and sometimes even emotional, with CAfLN members consolidating and extending their commitment to Assessment for Learning and providing examples for each other. Here are some of the highlight responses to each question:
 
Would not want to do without
Category Examples
Listening to and focusing on students
  • Building trust with learners by listening to what they say as evidence of learning
  • Focus on the student. Listen. We only know what we know – we are learning
Feedback
  • Feedback to illicit challenge, support and inform next steps
  • Descriptive feedback based on what worked, what was tricky, what are the next steps
Portfolios
  • Creating portfolios (early 2012) for my students gave me the “keys to the van” in terms of personalized instruction
  • Using formative assessment and portfolios to improve student writing, growth and engagement in adult education
Challenging Grades
  • Challenge from admin: No zeros policy (Uncomfortable but support from colleagues). From 25 marks in gradebook to 7 meaningful assessments. Is this for marks? No, this is for learning.
  • Assessment beyond test scores and grades opens a bold new world that goes beyond “doing assessment”
Student Ownership
  • Give students tools and vocabulary to have ownership over their own assessment
  • Moving from workbooks to a thinking classroom in Math: a journey of ownership and collaboration
 
The turning point in my assessment journey
Some examples:
  • Realising that marks were the currency of education – getting paid for jumping through hoops
  • Connection to others helped to unearth educator potential (1+1=3) so much more than you could do as an individual
  • Dylan Wiliam work – There is a difference between performance and learning. Performing activities does not necessarily ensure learning takes place Seeing, as a mother, her own children struggling with assessment sent home, without criteria, leaving the child to figure it out.
 
Making Connections
Example topics:
  • With HS teachers around barriers to learning and how to address
  • With higher ed around infusing AfL into teacher ed.
  • How are you supporting parents to understand AfL and going gradeless?
  • Facilitating “effective” PLC’s
  • Connections to risk-taking in AfL and AaL
 
It is clear that there is lots going on in CAfLN and that we have lots to talk about.  The CAfLN Board will use these data to streamline and set the stage for our future directions. Thanks to all the attendees.

First Timer's Perspective on CAfLN19

April McKnight, Teacher, Pender Harbour Secondary
 
Delta SD37 hosting Canadian Assessment for Learners Network Conference was my first experience of a conference as a presenter and participant. It was a polished affair from the opening day tours and barbecue to the amazing conference and symposium on Saturday. Now, I was not able to partake in everything but, here are the the nuts and bolts of my experience as a CAfLN newbie, a first-timer, a novice--whatever you want to call it.
 
As a girl from the farms on Manitoba as a child, I was excited to start my conference at the Delta Farm Roots site. It was fabulous to see my style of teaching. You see, nature-based learning is my go-to for secondary STEAM classes. We have a greenhouse and outdoor garden that we use everyday. This was my first realization that maybe, just maybe, I had found my group of people who were of like minds.

As the evening went on, we were honoured with six amazing Ignite 5 minute presentations.  These were the best introduction one could have to assessment for learning and how the conference would go. I knew at this point I had made my best decision to be a part of this conference

On the Friday, we were lead through the reasoning behind our networking with CAfLN and NOIIE. The keynotes were a perfect beginning to our learning. My biggest take away was the information shared by student leaders, who came to talk with us all. I think this was the greatest piece of affirmation that I was in the right place and I should be presenting. (As a rookie, I was scared that I was in over my head presenting here.) The students sent us off for the day, reminding us that we need to look and listen to our learners to see what is the best assessment practice for learners.

Yes, it is true--we need to plan our lessons, classes, assessment and even our school by listening to our learners. This was the personal affirmation I needed and this theme rang through me all day at the different presentations I went to. I had found my place with like minds.  It really became obvious to me when I explained that my secondary STEAM classes had no tests or exams; instead we do performance task assessments. My room full of educators agreed and were looking to see more of how I did this. 

Yes, after many years of teaching, I found my tribe at CAfLN.  This newbie will be part of this association for many, many years and I will promote CAfLN20 for all to attend and continue the growth of assessment for learning, Canada wide. This conference and its amazing planning committee were a perfect fit for us educators.  It opened us up to many chances to connect and grow our professional learning network. I feel every educator at all levels should join and help move assessment for learning in the right path.
 

How I was Invited Into the Room: #CAfLN19 Reflections

Bruce Mellesmoen, Principal, Prairie Spirit SD, Saskatchewan

Prior to flying from Saskatchewan to Vancouver, I had a chance to speak with my mentor about the CAfLN conference and how excited I was to be able to bring our school’s story to the group of educators who were gathering together. One of the concerns I had was how was I going to be in the room while my mind might be wandering to our presentation. Would our technology work? Would our message resonate? Would they “like” us? I was worried that these thoughts would consume me during the day and I would miss out on all the rich learning that awaited. After all, the reason for leaving our school and coming to the coast was to learn.
 
As we made our way into the main ballroom for our opening keynote, my fears were being actualized. I was focusing on what was to come for my colleague, Brenda Wilton (@bmgwteach) and I, and not living in the moment. Then Nathan “Kanaax Kuwoox” Wilson (@laxgoalchief00) began to speak. There was a power in his words, and as he spoke, and what he said travelled directly to my heart. He shared with us a fascinating story that had the room mesmerized as he took us on a journey and shared with us two sacred dreams he had. He was real, and he was vulnerable. Kanaax explained that he could not make sense of his dreams; however, it was only later that the meanings became clear. His message was the perfect way to begin the day as it was a reminder of the importance of knowing and embracing our own identity. With this opening I was instantly drawn into the room-- I was hooked, and I was primed to learn.
 
Lorna Earl followed with the President’s welcome, and if you ever needed proof that great things can come in small packages, you just need to sit and listen to Lorna. Reminding us that CAfLN is about connecting educators and building networks, she was quick to challenge us to remain responsive. Her words, “If you don’t know what to do, you don’t know enough YET,” were a simple, yet profound setting of the stage for what was to come. I could not stop thinking of the word mindset. This is what Lorna was reminding us of, being aware of our mindset, and it was what I needed to hear. If Kanaax was the one who brought me into the room, it was Lorna who invited me to sit at the table of learning.
 
This brought us to our morning keynote speakers, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, the founders of the Network of Innovation and Indigenous Education (NOIIE). It was evident from the outset that these two women were proud and excited to share their passion with our group. We were invited to think about how we can listen and then move to action. A gift we were all given was the Spiral Playbook, a book that encourages learners to lead by adopting an inquiry mindset. This dynamic duo presented in a way that allowed me to be in the room while inviting me to think about my role in my setting. I wondered how I could invite our staff members to think about their place on the being – belonging – becoming continuum. Linda spoke about the fine line that connects people and connects the work we are all doing, and as she talked about this fine line, I could not help but think about the innovations and advancements we have seen in our ability to communicate with each other. I thought about a fine line that carries so much information-- fibre optics-- and how the networks we would be forming during the day would also be a means of sharing information. Their opening address culminated in an activity that had the entire room buzzing with excitement, as seven students from the Delta area were invited to share with the group positive and not-so-positive experiences they had had with an assessment. The students were articulate, composed, engaging, and mature beyond their years. They had the room in the palms of their hands and the range of emotions they caused us to traverse had me in awe. The take away from the morning was clear: learning, and by extension assessment, is about the learner, not the teacher.

We dispersed and quickly made our way to our breakout sessions, and I was so excited to have an opportunity to learn with Katie White (@KatieWhite426). Katie’s message was as clear as the Saskatchewan skies under which she lives-- teaching is responding to what our students are telling us. She challenged us to be relentless in our pursuit of excellence, all to support our students, and reminded us to look for the answers to our questions in the artifacts the students give us every day. In true prairie fashion, Katie spoke of the bounty of the harvest. She described the way teachers in her division work to harvest student strengths first and foremost, and then they begin to harvest student needs. What intrigued me was the commitment to harvest as many strengths as possible while limiting the harvesting of needs to one or two. Again, it is a mindset. It is a commitment to student learning first and foremost, and it is a stance of inviting assessment to guide our teaching.
 
After a wonderful lunch, we were back into our learning, as our breakout sessions continued. Fiona Fraser (@fraserfi) shared a detailed look at the way a school has developed deep, meaningful connections on her staff through intentional collaboration time. Her message that really struck a chord with me was the importance of listening to our teachers as we work to move our adult learning forward. Her heartfelt presentation reminded us of how critical it is for all people to feel connected to the process.

Following Fiona, I had an opportunity to see two worlds combine, as Marie Bonardelli and Kathie Morrison shared how a math teacher and an English teacher found common ground. Their message that a number or a letter can never adequately tell the whole learning story was compelling, yet challenging. I was intrigued by the stance that assessment for learning represents a shift in the work we are doing and I wondered how we can invite more student voice into the assessment process.
 
As Marie and Kathie concluded their session, Brenda and I prepared to share our story. The group that came to learn with us was enthusiastic, reflective, responsive, and curious. It was such an honor for us to share our school’s story, a story written by so many people from #WaldheimSchool, both past and present. As is usually the case, we could have used another hour for the rich conversations that were percolating among the attendees. However, it was time to sum up and spiral back to the ballroom to learn with the closing keynote speakers.
 
In the large room, there was a feeling of anticipation, and I overheard several people wondering aloud what the message would be. The room was excited to hear what the seven students we had met earlier would share with us after their day of learning about assessment. While the future leaders were amiable, their challenge was clear. They stood before us and called on us to take action to continue to dig deep into our understanding of assessment and look critically at our practices. With the poise and humor of seasoned public speakers, the girls nudged our thinking in a way that was engaging, yet challenging. It was a perfect way to wrap up an incredible day of learning, and Lorna Earl put it best as she remarked, “What can you say to these girls but thank you."
 
#CAfLN19 is now complete, and soon I will be flying home, back to my life in Saskatchewan. I’m excited about the work that lies ahead for us in our setting and look forward to continuing to learn from the people I was able to connect with in Delta. I was initially fearful that I would not be in the room during the various sessions. I was worried that I would miss out on learning opportunities if I focused solely on what was to come versus what was happening at the moment. I’m happy to say that was not the case. The fact that I was drawn in and captivated by the session facilitators is a testament to their desire to share their stories of moving assessment forward in strong and wise ways. Coming into the conference I was worried about being in the room. However after the impact of #CAfLN19 I’m wondering how I’ll ever leave, and maybe that’s a good thing.
 
Thank you to everyone involved in this fantastic conference. #CAfLN20 cannot come soon enough!
 
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