A Message from Our New President

Lorna Earl, Ph.D.

 

It has come to that time when we are all working to close out another school year successfully, and planning for the changes that will come in the new year.  For me, and I hope for all of the educators who participated, the CAfLN conference and symposium provided a respite and a time for reflection on what matters for teaching and learning.  It gave me a chance to eavesdrop on the conversations around the room and think about the challenges associated with staying true to the “spirit” of AfL, as described in the The Learning How to Learn (LHTL) Project in England (James et al., 2007). In its work, the LHTL team found that teachers implementing AfL in their classrooms often reflected what they called the ‘letter’ of formative assessment, focusing on the surface techniques, rather than the ‘spirit’, based on a deep understanding of the principles underlying the practices. Even in this project that focused on AfL, only about 20 per cent of the teachers in their LHTL study were using formative assessment in ways that were designed to help students develop as learners (James et al., 2007).

In a recent (2015) article for Education Canada, the Canadian Education Association magazine, colleagues and I took up this idea and tried to unravel some of the problems.  The full article can be found at http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/unleashing-promise-assessment-learning.  Here is an excerpt from that article:

The LHTL researchers found many teachers who were attempting to engage in AfL by adding strategies to their existing assessment repertoire without shifting the purpose towards enhanced learning. This finding echoed a finding from a Canadian study in which we used the metaphor of creating an audio recording to describe the different ways in which teachers incorporate ideas of assessment for learning into their practices.[10] For some teachers, the process of incorporating new assessment strategies was like laying new sound tracks onto an existing track. Their original approach to teaching and assessment remained intact, but some additional material was superimposed upon it. The other end of the spectrum was like working with a sophisticated digitized recording system. This was rare in our study. These teachers had a sense of the components of the work and the mood they wanted to create, but operated using an open and changeable approach, skipping to anywhere in the work, adding little flourishes, and maneuvering all the bits to keep the whole production flowing. The teachers who used this digital approach were able not only to use a variety of techniques every day but also to move beyond them to circumnavigate what other teachers had experienced as obstacles. The third and most prevalent production style was a mixed one – some of it audiotape, some digitized – where teachers played with the digitized approach but kept coming back to the original tape. The transitions back and forth weren’t always smooth, and these teachers frequently expressed frustration and uncertainty about their practice.

As a result of common misunderstandings about how AfL works, teachers often engage in practical implementation based on limited understanding and superficial adoption of the ideas.[11] Over and over, teachers incorporate the techniques associated with AfL, including peer and self-assessment and routine assessments throughout a course to track students’ progress. But just adding these bits is not AfL. Certainly the tools or techniques are useful, but teachers implementing the “letter” of AfL are in the early stages of understanding and embedding the concept into their practice; they still depend on rules and embed the new ideas as add-ons.

Becoming more proficient means developing a deep understanding of the underlying theory and learning to use the ideas to solve problems and make ongoing adaptations automatically. Teachers with this “spirit” of assessment for learning do not just add strategies to their existing assessment repertoire; they internalize the underlying principles, have a strong belief in the importance of promoting student autonomy, articulate a clear conviction that they are responsible for ensuring that this takes place, and take this empowering philosophy into the classroom and communicate it to students.[12] The LHTL project demonstrated that:

although advice on specific techniques is useful in the short term, longer-term development and sustainability depends on re-evaluating beliefs about learning, reviewing the way learning activities are structured, and rethinking classroom roles and relationships.[13].

If AfL is going to have the impact on student learning that research promises, it will be essential to move beyond the “letter” of superficial add-ons and rethink a wide range of practices.  A noble and worthy challenge.

Measuring What Matters: Phase 3 Progress Report

Submitted by David Cameron from People for Education

This report provides an update on People for Education’s Measuring What Matters (MWM) initiative, including some of the early findings coming out of the school field trials.

… it isn’t about what [students] understand about seasonal changes in my science curriculum, it’s how they’re thinking critically and asking questions around those ideas within Science.’ I see [MWM] as a framework that gives greater purpose to what we are doing. And values the things we know are intrinsically important.

Measuring What Matters envisions a public education system that supports all students to develop the competencies and skills they need to live happy, healthy, economically secure, civically engaged lives; and that strengthens Canada—our society, our economy, our environment—by graduating young people with the skills to meet the challenges our country faces.

This vision can be achieved by:

  • setting broad and balanced goals for student success that include numeracy, literacy, creativity, social-emotional learning, health, and citizenship; and
  • ensuring that these goals drive policy, practice, funding, and accountability.

The goal of MWM is to explore a broader view of student success that includes a concrete set of competencies and learning conditions in the areas of creativity, citizenship, mental and physical health, social-emotional learning, and quality learning environments.

This year, eighty educators in 26 publicly funded schools and seven school boards tested the competencies in their classrooms and schools. Each field trial team designed and implemented a set of activities that were integrated within their ongoing work.

Watch teacher Kim Stolys talk about her participation in the field trials.

Several themes emerged:

  • The work aligned with participants’ professional values as educators. It resonated with what they felt were central in learning experiences, but that often did not get the same attention as academic achievement.
  • Educators took a range of approaches in their use of the MWM competencies. Some took a more narrow focus, addressing one or two competencies in a single domain; others explored combinations of competencies from several domain areas. The individuality in what educators focused on, and how they investigated it, demonstrates how personalized this work is, and how important it is to protect non-standardized learning contexts.
  • There appears to be an inextricable and dynamic link between learning conditions and specific competencies that students express: learning conditions frame and support the expression of specific competencies and, conversely, the focus on specific competencies in relation to teaching, learning, and assessment supports teachers in exploring a greater range of possible conditions and/or learning opportunities.
  • Strong interrelationships between the domains were evident across the study.
  • The specific lexicon or “language of learning” of the competencies helped define sometimes broad but ambiguous areas of learning. The language gave educators clear pathways into actions and planning in classrooms, created opportunities to communicate with each other, and to generate new conditions.
  • The framework supported broadening perspectives on where learning occurs in schools. A number of schools explored student experiences outside of the classroom, broadening the learning space beyond specific, situated moments in scheduled classroom times to include the whole school environment.

February Saskatoon Pop-up Highlights

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After some minor technical difficulties, Veronica Saretsky started off the meeting and welcoming Damian Cooper from Ontario and Ken O’Connor from Florida. Both Damian and Ken shared information about the beginning of CAfLN and their hopes for connecting assessment for learning practice and practitioners across Canada. Each of them also shared what they are currently seeing in their work. How to capture evidence of learning in authentic ways and the importance of aligning practice with what we know and believe about assessment for learning emerged as themes throughout the discussion.

 

 

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Participants then shared examples of what they are seeing and hearing in classrooms with respect to assessment and learning. This year’s conference co-chairs, Veronica Saretsky and Lori Jeschke spoke about the upcoming conference and symposium. It was an amazing time and there was an expressed desire to continue to establish these local connections.  Special thanks to Veronica for facilitating and for the treats!

 

Pop-up Meeting in Saskatoon

Thursday February 16, 2017

4:00 pm – 5:30 pm

Sion – GSCS Meeting Room

2010 7th St. E Saskatoon, SK

(Please use the front entrance and sign in when arriving)

 

Join virtual guests,CAfLN founders Damian Cooper and Ken O’Connor, along with other CAfLN members from Saskatchewan in sharing a personal, school or district idea or question about deepening our use of assessment for learning. Light refreshments will be provided.

Questions? Contact veronica.saretsky@gmail.com

or

Reserve your spot here

2016-05-14 Symposium Sharing 1

 

Vocal – Online Course on Capturing Evidence of Learning

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VOCAL 101 is Damian Cooper’s new online professional learning course that takes K-12 educators inside classrooms to see why and how using mobile technologies to capture digital evidence through observations and conversations can be a powerful tool for assessing learning.

A concise five section course design … provides K-12 educators with an effective and manageable professional learning experience. Key concept lectures … explore the foundational ideas and research that underpin VOCAL and best-practise assessment.

Authentic in-class videos … model how teachers and their students use everyday mobile technologies to capture and use evidence of learning through observations of performance and conversations.

How-to tips, tools and strategies … provide practical support to encourage and enable educators, regardless of their experience with instructional technology, to use more observation and conversation when assessing learning.

Professional learning activities … are differentiated to reflect educator readiness with respect to VOCAL – just committed, building capacity, or confirming results.

A flexible online format … means VOCAL can be used anywhere, anytime and on any device, individually, in professional learning communities, or as the basis for collaborative inquiry.

Assessment for Learning: Meeting the Challenges of Implementation

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Springer Publications is pleased to announce the launch of a new book co-edited by CAfLN member Dany Laveault (University of Ottawa) and Linda Allal (University of Geneva) on AfL and the challenges associated with its implementation in our education systems.

“Assessment for Learning: Meeting the Challenge of Implementation” provides new perspectives on Assessment for Learning (AfL), on the challenges encountered in its implementation, and on the diverse ways of meeting these challenges. It brings together contributions from 33 researchers and authors working in a wide range of educational contexts representing Australia, Canada, England, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Israel, Philippines, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Several Canadian authors have contributed to this book including Chris DeLuca, Don Klinger, Anne Davies, Louise Bourgeois, Ann Sherman, Sandra Herbst, Adelina Valiquette and Dany Laveault It reflects the issues, innovations, and critical reflections that are emerging in an expanding international network of researchers, professional development providers, and policy makers, all of whom work closely with classroom teachers and school leaders to improve the assessment of student learning.

The concept of Assessment for Learning, initially formulated in 1999 by the Assessment Reform Group in the United Kingdom, has inspired new ways of conceiving and practicing classroom assessment in education systems around the world. This book examines assessment for learning in a broad perspective which includes diverse approaches to formative assessment (some emphasizing teacher intervention, others student involvement in assessment), as well as some forms of summative assessment designed to support student learning. The focus is on assessment in K-12 classrooms and on the continuing professional learning of teachers and school leaders working with these classrooms.

Readers of this volume will encounter well documented accounts of AfL implementation across a large spectrum of conditions in different countries and thereby acquire better understanding of the challenges that emerge in the transition from theory and policy to classroom practice. They will also discover a wealth of ideas for implementing assessment for learning in an effective and sustainable manner. The chapters are grouped in three Parts: (1) Assessment Policy Enactment in Education Systems; (2) Professional Development and Collaborative Learning about Assessment; (3) Assessment Culture and the Co-Regulation of Learning. An introduction to each Part provides an overview and presents the suggestions and recommendations formulated in the chapters.

President’s Holiday Message

Damian Cooper - Portrait

My goodness, how the time flies – now that I’m well into my 60’s!  Here we are, in mid-December and it’s -8 outside.  Much colder in Winnipeg, I understand!  Yet it seems as though the school year just began.  But since time is flying by, I must be having fun, right?

It has been a busy but satisfying fall term for me.  And I certainly hope you feel the same way.  Never before have I been so happy to live in this wonderful country called Canada.  I won’t elaborate since my dear friend, Ken O’Connor is, by now settled into his other home in Florida – and he gets very upset when I mention “you know who”!

CAfLN has been busy.  Last night we hosted the latest Live Twitter Chat, focusing on the exciting changes in curriculum, assessment and reporting occurring in British Columbia.  Many thanks to Justin Green, Jimmy Pai and Ken for their work ongoing work to connect CAfLN members through this medium.  We urge our members across the country to join us for the live chats – the second Tuesday of the month at 8 pm Eastern time.

Plans are well under way for our 4th Annual CAfLN Conference and Symposium, taking place May 5-6 in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.  Details are constantly updated on the CAfLN website.  Registration is open so avoid the rush!

I hope that you are able to take some time during the holidays to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate with family and friends.  Maybe that means checking our email less frequently, keeping our heads up rather than tilted down, going for a bracing walk instead of another trip in the car – relishing the sights, sounds and joys of all things natural.  Perhaps the holidays will have a religious element, perhaps not. But I think we all benefit from reconnecting with our spiritual side at this time of year.  Because as Canadians, we are truly “blessed” to live in this wonderful place.

I wish you and your loved ones peace, health and contentment now, and in the coming year.

Damian Cooper

President, Canadian Assessment for Learning Network (CAfLN)

What Can Christmas Movies Teach Us About Assessment for Learning?

Submitted by Lori Jeschke, Superintendent, Prairie Spirit School Division, Saskatchewan

Our assessment team meets once a week to touch base, celebrate success, provide feedback, and to determine next steps. One of the highlights of our time together includes creating playlists. These lists usually reference the music we are listening to or perhaps the books on our nightstands. However, given the season at hand, our last meeting took our playlists to the movies scene. We identified favourite Christmas movies: Christmas vacation, Love Actually, Home Alone and Despicable Me…

When someone tweeted the article The Twelve Days of Christmas Break by Mary Peters, I immediately connected to our conversation around Christmas movies. I wondered…could anything be linked to assessment for learning?

Anything??

Apparently so…

Self-Assessment and the Core Competencies in British Columbia

2016-11-25 Submitted by Paige Fisher, PhD Faculty of Education, Vancouver Island University

The province of BC is abuzz with a new provincial requirement for students to be involved in self assessing against the Core Competencies, which the province has articulated as Thinking (Critical and Creative) , Communication, and Personal and Social (Social Responsibility, Positive Personal and Social Identity, Personal Awareness and Responsibility). An element of student voice, as students self-assess in these areas, is required on the year-end summative report for all learners.

What I am noticing is that the self-assessment / assessment as learning conversation is happening everywhere as teachers grapple with how to meet this requirement. As I facilitate professional learning sessions in relation to the Competencies, I find myself going back to some of my past favourites – like Lorna Earl’s Assessment as Learning and a current favourite, Dylan Wiliam’s Embedding Formative Assessment, while combing through the fine print on the new reporting order and the descriptions of the competencies themselves.

Another wonderful side effect of this new requirement and the whole curriculum shift in BC is the amount of sharing that is happening. As districts develop unique solutions to the policy, they are sharing the work they are doing for the benefit of all. Fantastic examples of support for formative assessment practice can be found at School District 71 (Courtenay/Comox), School District 68 (Nanaimo/Ladysmith) and School District 48  (Sea to Sky).

Manitoba Members Meet to Strengthen the Local Network

With founding member Damian Cooper coming to work with the staff of College Louis-Riel in the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine, Manitoba CAfLN members took the opportunity to network face-to-face over dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory in the heart of Winnipeg on October 18th. Four city school divisions and a private school were represented as current members and potential new members shared their current work with assessment for learning. The evening was filled with good food, interesting stories, and passionate conversation related to teaching and learning. Since the first conference and symposium, Tuesday’s dinner was the first of, hopefully, many networking opportunities for CAfLN members in Manitoba.