Canadian Assessment for Learning Newsletter, 
November, 2019

President's Greetings

Lori Jeschke, Director of Education, Saskatchewan

As we head in to this new school year, what are you paying attention to? 

  • Is it someone in your classroom? 
  • Is it something in your practice? 
  • Is it something you have read?
  • Is it a conversation you have had?

In John Hattie's book, 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning, he invites all of us, as educators, to think about the impact of what we do as being more important than what we do. Chapter two of his book focuses on I see assessment as informing my impact and next steps.

How are the tenets of Assessment for Learning impacting the way you think about what you do? 

This newsletter is one way in which we are working to connect you with other educators from across Canada. The content within the newsletter, alongside the contributing authors, invite you in to the conversations around assessment. If there is something in one of the 
stories that connects with you, reach out to the author or share it with someone else. We are excited to share what's going on in the area of assessment. Let us know what you are paying attention to and why. We'd love to hear from you!

Teach me:
Self-assessment as a competence

Kristina Tzetzos, Co-founder of Spinndle

Developing skills takes time and practice. Look at Athletes. Artisans. Artists. As we move deeper into the world of competency-based education, are we creating opportunities for our students to have adequate time and practice of these new skills? We are now asking our students to be more involved in their learning and assessment, with reflections and self-reporting becoming more of a norm. It is this ask that drove us teachers to create Spinndle: a social learning and skill development platform that scaffolds the assessment as learning process for students in a meaningful and engaging way. 
I have often thought, “What about self-assessment as a competence?”
If a student cannot self-assess with accuracy, doesn’t it render all subsequent assessments flawed? I’m reminded of the old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
When it comes to self-assessment, are we merely feeding our students—through opportunities to self-assess—or are we teaching them to fish—by giving them the necessary guidance, training, and practice?
Our edtech platform, Spinndle, doesn’t have a teacher assessment component. And we’re often asked, “What if students don’t assess themselves accurately?” Well, as a teacher, that would be my starting point. My job is to train my students to assess themselves with accuracy so they feel empowered to guide their own learning. I can’t even count how many students have approached me over the years asking, “Is this good?”—a question I often met with, “You tell me. What do you think?” 
There are many factors in the human condition that contribute to unrealistic self-assessments, including tendencies to (a) be unrealistically optimistic about one’s own abilities, (b) believe that one is above average, (c) neglect crucial information, and (d) have deficits in required information (Dunning, Heath, & Suls, 2004).
We need to address these tendencies. So, how do we teach self-assessment? Dr. Gavin Brown and Dr. Lois Ruth Harris, from the University of Auckland and Australian Catholic University respectively have dedicated years of research to self-assessment theory and practices.             
Research has shown (Brown & Harris, 2013; Ross, 2006) that realistic self-assessments are more likely when: 
(1) students are involved in the process of establishing criteria for evaluating work outcomes; 
(2) students are taught how to apply those criteria; 
(3) students receive feedback from others (i.e., teachers and peers) to help move students toward more accurate evaluations; 
(4) students are taught how to use other assessment data (e.g., test scores or graded work) to improve their work; 
(5) there is psychological safety when self-evaluation is used; 
(6) when rewards for accuracy are used; and 
(7) when students are required to explicitly justify to their peers their self-evaluations. 

It’s #1 we need to start with. A teacher colleague turned school counselor I know introduced me to the Adlerian “Life Tasks” assessment: an exercise where the evaluator takes stock of his/her life from a holistic approach (Shelley, 2013). I completed the assessment for myself: giving a present and desired rating for five aspects of my life, and then had to justify my ratings. In other words, I established my own criteria. If present is point A, and desired is point B, I had to justify not only what B looks like, but what it was going to take for me to move from point A to B. 
What might this look like for a student? Let’s say we ask our student, “Rate yourself 1-10 on your ability to participate well in groups.” 

  • Student Response: “I’m going to say I’m a 6/10, but I want to be a 9/10.”
  • Student Thinking: “I’m a 6 because sometimes I don’t really participate in groups. I just sit there and wait for someone to tell me what to do. I feel like a 9 is someone who talks more and gives ideas and does their fair share of work. I don’t know what a 10 looks like because that means you’d be perfect at group work and I don’t really know what that would mean, so I didn’t put a 10.”

Now, that’s obviously incredibly simplified and assumes the student has the wherewithal to reflect on that level.
It’s the cognitive process that I believe is so valuable: allowing students to determine their own goals on their terms.
By establishing a starting benchmark and a desired destination, they also lay the foundation of a plan. Then, my role as a teacher is to refine that plan if and when needed, and give my student the space and tools to execute their plan. 
According to Brown and Harris (2014), “It should come as no surprise that both teachers and students will need training before they can engage with self-assessment as a taught and learned competence. New professional development materials and courses are needed that go beyond the exhortation to use student self-assessment.”
Spinndle embeds assessment throughout the learning cycle. Students practice self-assessing before they share their work. They view others’ work and provide structured feedback (glow and grow comments). As co-learners, they drive each other to move forward in their learning. Sharing and engaging on Spinndle exercises their own metacognition, helping them identify when they were unrealistic or inaccurate in their self-assessment. It’s very much a practice ground for assessment as learning, giving teachers quick insight to their students self-assessment competence. 
And to go a step further, we want self-assessment to move learning. As a student, it shouldn’t just be a reflection of what you have done, it should motivate your next steps. On Spinndle, we ask students to self-report: identifying where they started, where they are at currently, where they want to go and build an action plan for how to get there. 
We hope to serve as a valuable resource to teachers, to move beyond exhortation and enhance the innovative learning opportunities we know teachers are already providing in their classrooms. 

Kristina is a former teacher turned entrepreneur from Vancouver, BC. Her and her co-founder, Jackie, were selected into LearnLaunch's current educational technology cohort, ETS Accelerate and are currently doing research in Boston, MA. They would love to speak with with more educators, administrators, and district representatives who can shed light on programs dedicated to skill development (competencies, soft skills, SEL) and how these are being assessed, to ask a few questions about their challenges and goals in these areas. If this is you, and you'd be interested in doing a 20-30 minute interview with Jack and Kris, contact This would not be a sales call, strictly research.


Dunning, D., Heath, C., & Suls, J. M. (2004). Flawed self-assessment: Implications for health, education, and the workplace. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5(3), 69-106. doi: 10.1111/j.1529- 1006.2004.00018.x 
Brown, G. T. L., & Harris, L. R. (2014). The future of self-assessment in classroom practice: Reframing self-assessment as a core competency. Frontiers of Learning Research. 3. 22-30. 10.14786/flr.v2i1.24. Available online.
Brown, G. T. L., & Harris, L. R. (2013). Student self-assessment. In J. H. McMillan (Ed.). The SAGE handbook of research on classroom assessment (pp. 367-393). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Ross, J. A. (2006). The reliability, validity, and utility of self-assessment. Practical Assessment Research & Evaluation, 11(10), Available online.
Shelley, C.A. (2013). The life tasks revisited. Adlerian Yearbook 2013. (pp. 70-90). London: Adlerian Society (UK) and Institute for Individual Psychology.

CAfLN 2020 Partnership

Sherry Bennett, Executive Director, Alberta Assessment Consortium
People are often shocked to find out how many people work at the Alberta Assessment Consortium (AAC). In fact, we have been known to ask that question – just for fun – as an ice breaker at workshop sessions where participants are well acquainted with our work.
The most interesting answer was not really an answer – but rather a description of the imagined office space – “AAC has to take up at least 3 floors!” they said.
The actual answer is 3 – but not 3 floors – just 3 full-time people. An Executive Director, an Executive Assistant, and a secondee. A few ‘part-timers’ help us out with their expertise, and at one point in time, AAC had 3 government grants on the go and we were able to include a few more secondees in the team count. But our basic staffing remains at 3.
So why does this matter?
Over the years, teachers and leaders throughout the province of Alberta (and beyond) have come to see AAC as the ‘go to’ place for classroom assessment resources. Whether you’re looking for a performance assessment task and rubric that you can use in your classroom, a video to spark discussion at a PLC or staff meeting, some ‘made in Alberta’ research on effective models for building assessment capacity, or some practical print resources that can help you with Building Better Rubrics, we invite you to check out what AAC has to offer.
AAC was formed twenty-six years ago, and the original vision of its founders might surprise you. The jurisdiction leaders thought they might come together to create an Alberta version of a popular standardized test. After a couple of meetings though, the group decided that the last thing Alberta students needed was another standardized test! Parenthetically speaking, and from our current vantage point, we couldn’t agree with them more!
And so AAC began the journey towards more authentic and helpful forms of classroom assessment. The early founders reached out to leading authorities world-wide to help AAC shape its vision. Working with Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, AAC began to develop a collection of performance assessment tasks and rubrics. Tom Guskey brought insights into the work of reporting and communicating student learning. Rick Stiggins, Anne Davies, Ruth Sutton, Ken O’Connor, Damian Cooper, Dylan Wiliam, James Popham, Rick Wormeli and a host of others throughout the years have helped AAC focus and refine its vision of the power of formative assessment – or assessment for learning – to impact student learning and confidence. These individuals were also keynote speakers at the annual AAC Fall Conference, a ‘not to be missed’ professional learning event in Alberta for over 25 years.
So why does this matter?
AAC didn’t hold a fall conference this year… but we are excited to partner with CAfLN for a collaborative spring conference. While our two organizations have different organizational and funding structures, what we have in common is an unrelenting belief in the power of classroom formative assessment to make a difference in the lives of students. If we were going to use a Venn diagram to represent our organizations, there would be a significant area of overlap!
Our AAC team of 3 has enjoyed the opportunity to engage in collaborative discussions over the past few months with members of the CAfLN team.  We are working together to create a truly unique professional learning experience for our collective memberships.
You’ll want to save the date for Assessment 20/20: How clear is our vision?
April 30 – May 1 in Edmonton
More details to follow… hope to ‘see’ you there!

AfL from a Home Economics Classroom

Irene Chang, Home Economics Teacher, Richmond SD, BC

“Is this for marks?” my student nervously checks with me when he comes up for feedback on his semi-torn paper sew sample with crooked lines. “No, it is not for marks, it is for practice.” I remind him. My student releases a breath of relief as we look at his paper sew sample together.
I am a Home Economics teacher whose first few attempts at using the sewing machine produced samples had holes, and crooked lines – just like my student’s. So how is my experience different than my student’s you may wonder? I believe the difference is in the formative assessment and feedback provided during the process of learning how to sew. Formative assessment “requires us to continually capture moments of learning in all its complexity to help us infer a student’s level of understanding and take action based on what we learn” (White, 2017, p. 80).
On their first day in Home Economics, my grade 8 students begin to learn how to use the sewing machine, sewing their first sample--which I call their “sewing doodle”. I start with a demonstration (which I have recorded so students can see clearly the tiny parts of the machine, and can re-watch it online if they wish). After this I go over with students our goals for the sample demonstrated. For our “sewing doodle” we learn how to set up the machine, turn it on, and sew forwards and backwards in any direction we please as long as we stay within our sheet of paper. After each sample, I ask students to come up to me for feedback, where we have a quick conversation while looking at their sample.

Figure 1: A student’s “sewing doodle”

For our next sample, students learn how to use guidelines on the machine to sew straight, to pivot, and to use different patterns such as zigzag. All skills students practice in their paper sew samples connect directly to skills they will use for their first summative project (and future ones too). I review with students our goals for each sample before they begin, and after a round or two of having looked through everyone’s practice, I review it again, this time adding my observations of what I have noticed in many of their samples.

Figure 2: A student’s example of samples produced in our second round of paper sews
For our last group of samples before starting our project, students work on doing sample two again, but this time with the added complexity of having to sew with thread. With thread, students need to be very careful as the thread follows their every move on the sewing machine. During this stage of practice when students come up to me for feedback, I often find them sharing their own reflections with me on what they notice about their samples. They not only have an idea of where their sewing is at the moment, where they would like to go, but sometimes even what their next steps are to focus on in their next practice piece. It brings me so much joy to observe students initiating and engaging in reflection of their learning on their own!

Figure 3: A student's paper sew sample using thread

Once we are finished with all our practice samples, I ask students to revisit all their samples again and to reflect on what they have learned and what they notice about their samples. It is amazing to see their growth visually and when they begin to make the connection of why formative assessment and feedback are important in this stage of learning before embarking on their first summative project. Even after completing their first summative project, as a class, we continue to reflect on how our paper sew samples are an important step in building our skills and our confidence first before moving onto any major project.

Figure 4: Students looking at all their samples while reflecting and documenting their learning so far.

White, K. (2017). Softening the Edges: Assessment Practices That Honor K-12 Teachers and Learners. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Network Member Profile

Ken O'Connor

1) Who are you?

I'm a husband, grandfather, father, independent consultant, former high school teacher and Curriculum Coordinator and sports fanatic.

2) How do you spend your days in relation to education? 

Working with schools and other educational organizations to develop more effective assessment, grading and reporting practices.

3) Why Assessment for Learning? 

Because it is the most valuable purpose for assessment as it provides everyone involved with the information to answe the critical learning questions for each student - "Where am I going? Where am I now? and What do I do to close the gap or get better? It also contributes significantly to students - and teachers - developing as reflective learners.

4) Why the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network? 

Because we need a strong group of Canadian educators who understand the importance of assessment for learning, who use it in their work, and promote it in their workplaces and beyond.

Try this: For a quick snapshot
Robynn Anderson, Middle Years Teacher, Prairie Spirit School Division

Plickers is an interactive classroom activity. You can sign up for free at and create assessments for any class. Numbered cards, resembling barcodes, are assigned to each student. Plickers can be controlled from a phone, using the Plickers app, and displayed on an overhead projector or classroom SmartBoard. When the question pops up students will select either a), b), c), or d) as their answer and respond by rotating their cards until the correct letter is facing up. Then they hold their cards in the air while the teacher scans the room with their phone. The app corrects the responses and, on the phone, displays which students have answered correctly.

I use Plickers for quick reviews in my math classes. Prior to our Plickers assessments I hand out mini whiteboards for each student to show their work on. I like to create “quizzes” on the Plickers website where there is a right answer so students can self-assess as we go. But I have also created “surveys” where there is no correct answer, this option allows for more discussions and there is less stress on the students as a result.

Why do I use Plickers?

1. Quick Assessment; you get an idea of how students are understanding the material right then and there, and you can reduce the amount of marking you take home.

2. Quick Feedback for Students; they have their responses corrected immediately which allows for self-reflections throughout and see how they are doing.

3. Engaging Activity; Plickers is an alternative to the traditional assignments, quizzes, tests, etc. that students tend to enjoy quite a lot!


Here’s what teachers who use Plickers are saying:

Follow Robynn on Twitter at: @RobynnPid 

The Final Word: From a Student's Perspective

Assessment for learning is critical for all learners, and as such, all learners need to have a voice. In this section we hope to highlight some thoughts students have on assessment for learning.
 Is Making Students Take Tests on Things They Learn in School Helpful?
Daisy Dunning - Grade 9 Student - Prairie Spirit School Division
Everyone has different opinions on making students do tests on the things they learn in school. I have researched some reasons on why or why not students should take tests. The main topics I researched are: Are tests useful for students? Should tests be a large percentage of students’ overall grades? What are the advantages and disadvantages of testing for students and teachers?

I personally don’t think that tests should be a large percentage of a student’s overall grade. I do think students should have to keep doing tests though, because tests are a good way of seeing if every individual in the class is understanding what they are learning and if they know how to explain and properly answer the questions they are being asked. I think a test doesn’t really have to be graded at all-- just let it be a way of knowing the areas teachers still need to explain a little bit more and see who might need a little more help in class. I found this information online, “More standardized tests are being examined and homework and class time is being devoted to preparing students for the tests they are forced to take, instead of being spent on teaching them how to do the work that will be on the test and giving instruction.” I also think that they can lack making sure the students know what they are learning and not just memorizing certain areas and sentences just because that part will be on the test.

I don’t think that tests are overly helpful to students. Instead of learning, we just try to remember the things that we need to because they will be on the test. I believe that the only learning and helpful part of taking tests for the students is they learn how to write a test. I think that tests are a lazy way for teachers to drill information into their student’s minds to help them get good grades. I know from experience, that even if you get 100% on a test, you can still have forgotten everything that was on it by the next day, I think this is because we only let ourselves learn and teachers only teach us the parts that will be on the test.

I think that a main advantage for teachers making students take tests is that it’s an easier way for them to teach the things they need to. A disadvantage for teachers would be they have to make sure every kid knows what is on the test and how to answer the questions. They also have to prepare the tests. An advantage for the students would be that they only have to make sure they know what will be on the test and memorize the answers to those questions. A disadvantage for the students is that they don’t remember what they learned after the test because they have no interest in that. Students have been taught that they don’t need to learn anything to get good grades; they just have to know the answers to the questions that will be on the test. And so they don’t get anything out of the classes they have to attend. [I know I’ve been saying that a lot and that is because teachers always tell you the areas that we need to study and the type of questions that will be on the test.]

In conclusion, I don’t think that student should need to take tests, but if and when they do, they might not be helpful. Some students get nervous around tests and aren’t able to show how much they actually know about the subject they are studying. I think that tests should be an optional thing, and by that I mean that there should be multiple choices of ways that students show their progress and learning, for example, a project or a write up. I think that this idea is important because some student hate tests, while others like them. If students are able to show what they know in the way they chose, they would be able to show or tell a teacher about it. Also I think students will enjoy class more if they don’t have to worry about the stress of a test. When students are in stressful situations, they aren’t able to work their best and sometimes aren’t able to answer the questions they know the answers to, but if we had a different way of evaluating students’ knowledge, I think they would be able to tell you everything they know because they are telling you in the way they feel comfortable with.

About the author: Daisy is currently in grade 9. However, she wrote this piece last year in her ELA 8 class for her teacher, Mrs. Kerr. The students were invited to write about something they were passionate about in their free writing time. At the time, the students were learning about persuasive writing.
Visit our Website to find out more about CAfLN!
Copyright © 2018, Canadian Assessment for Learning Network, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email as a benefit of CAfLN membership.

Our mailing address is:

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

This email was sent to <<Email Address>>
why did I get this?    unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences
Canadian Assessment for Learning Network · 210 Mahonee Drive · Winnipeg, MB R2G 2Z1 · Canada

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp