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.

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

vocal-image

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

assessment-for-learning-meeting-the-challenges-of-implementation

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)

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.

President’s Fall Message

Damian Cooper - Portrait

Dear CAfLN members,

Sitting on my deck this Labour Day, I’m thinking about the words of Tom Allen, CBC Radio 2’s afternoon host, who last week described tomorrow as the “real New Year” for so many Canadians.  Certainly, as educators, the day after Labour Day typically brings many more new beginnings than January 1st.  Meeting a new group of eager – we hope! – students, welcoming new teachers into our school, perhaps opening a new school, or maybe sending your own children off to the first day of the academic year – in our roles as teachers and parents, tomorrow is truly a fresh start.  I can’t believe that after 37 years as an educator, I still experience school dreams during the last week of the summer holiday! Once a teacher, always a teacher!

To prepare for the coming year, most of your CAfLN Executive and Directors travelled to Lorna Earl’s cottage last week for a planning retreat.   The 3-day event opened with Friday’s question, “Where are we?” On Saturday, we tackled the question, “Where do we want to be?” Sunday was devoted to action plans as we tackled the challenges of “How do we get there?”

Here is a brief list of some of the topics we discussed and decisions we made:

  • To assist with the growth of CAfLN regionally, a “toolkit” will be developed for the regional representatives. This will provide both information about the network, as well as suggestions and processes to assist these representatives with expanding CAfLN’s local influence.
  • We will continue with monthly live Twitter chats but will explore a variety of formats in an effort to deepen the conversations. The first chat for this year will occur on September 13th, 8 pm EDT time.
  • The website will be redesigned to improve its look and user-friendliness.
  • The “Research and Resources” pages on the website will be expanded and updated regularly.
  • A research committee will be struck to investigate how CAfLN can support Canadian assessment research.
  • CAfLN will endeavour to increase the number of members who share their work at future symposia and conferences.

This leads me to our Spring Conference and Symposium which will take place in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  The date and conference theme will be announced on the CAfLN website by the end of September.

So as this new school year begins, I invite all of you to invite two of your colleagues to join CAfLN to discover how high-quality assessment is one of the most effective tools we have to increase learning for ALL of our students.  Have a great year and hoping to see you in Halifax!

Damian Cooper

President, Canadian Assessment for Learning Network

Hacking Assessment : 10 Ways To Go Gradeless In a Traditional School

Hacking AssessmentA Book Review by Denine Laberge

Many parents and educators will argue that “This is the way we’ve always done it and it isn’t broken!” To this, Starr Sackstein offers some sound advice, “… the world has changed in the last hundred years and … a 19th century system doesn’t prepare kids for the creativity and critical thinking required of the 21st century.”

Starr Sackstein gives her readers something to think about in this quick 131 page read by putting the focus on what matters in assessment. Going gradeless is a big step for many teachers but, as she clearly demonstrates in this book, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Organized into 10 “Hacks”, this book starts at the beginner level, for those thinking about making the switch, and progresses right through to the details of a successful transition to a gradeless school environment. Sackstein addresses concerns that may arise from teachers, administrators, parents and even students, giving sound reasoning to keep the initiative alive.

For me, this book affirmed that I am on the right track in my growth as an educator and learner. For others, it may inspire an awakening of what our real mission as educators is; to lead our students to become independent, responsible thinkers and lifelong learners. The best way to do this is to involve the student in his or her own assessment of learning. After all, who would understand their learning better than themselves?

President’s Summer Message

Damian Cooper - Portrait

Dear CAfLN friends and colleagues,

I find myself with very mixed emotions today.  It’s a gorgeous sunny day, some down time is just around the corner, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with nature at our summer retreat on Georgian Bay.  But before heading up there, I must travel to Staffordshire in the UK for the funeral of my dear father who would have turned 96 in July.

I share this with you because Dad always reminded me of the importance of human relationships.  While he happily embraced new technologies – he learned to use a PC in his mid-eighties and wrote his memoirs, he also valued face-to-face interaction above all other means of communication.  As long as he was able, we chatted on the phone every week.  But what he most looked forward to were my bi-annual visits to see him – visits where we hugged, went for drives in the verdant Staffordshire countryside, and inevitably wound up at a pub for fish and chips and a beer!

While as CAfLN members, we necessarily rely upon digital communication for much of our work together, I cherish our opportunity to get together, face-to-face, at the annual conference and symposium.  That is when I truly see and feel the passion and energy that you bring to education.  This past May, many of us gathered at Queen’s University in Kingston to share learning, meet new colleagues, wrestle with challenges, exchange ideas, and of course, enjoy good food and a drink.  During the symposium on Saturday, I watched with fascination as our Ontario members listened almost in disbelief, as their colleagues from British Columbia described the flexibility the Ministry of Education accorded them with respect to reporting:

“We can request not to use a report card at all, and instead, use e-portfolios for communication with parents.”

“You can??? Seriously???”

During the AGM which took place during the symposium, your CAfLN Executive asked for members to step up to fill a number of  existing board positions, as well as volunteering to serve as regional representatives to help coordinate the expansion of our network across Canada.  Lorna, Ken, and I had shared our concerns over breakfast that morning in terms of, ‘What should we do if no one volunteers?”  What a foolish question!  Hands shot up as we listed the various positions.  Perhaps a number of you were inspired by our secretary, Denine Laberge’s passionate account of how joining CAfLN, and subsequently taking on a leadership role within our organization, has enriched her life in so many ways.  Thanks again, Denine!  Sure, we often get passionate during our Google Hangouts, but occasionally, it is so wonderful to be in the same room, with a group of diverse educators from right across the country, who share a passion for children and learning.

And so, while I know that many of us will connect on a regular basis during the next academic year, using an ever-expanding variety of social media, I encourage you to begin making plans to join us next Spring (date to be confirmed in September) in Halifax, Nova Scotia for our 4th Annual Conference and Symposium.

In the meantime, I wish you all a relaxing, healthy, and happy summer.

Damian Cooper, President of CAfLN