A Message from CAfLN’s President, Lorna Earl

It is hard to believe that CAfLN is four years old and five years since Damian, Ken and I first met to talk about a cross-Canada network that connected educators who believe in assessment for learning.  Our enthusiasm for CAfLN was fueled by the powerful practices that we were seeing and hearing about in classrooms and schools in small towns, cities, on the Prairies, on our coastlines, in kindergartens, art classes and calculus classes, in initial teacher education, and on and on.  But we realized that we had a unique vantage point because we worked in all of these places.  Although we saw the amazing assessment practices that people like you are engaged in, we were aware that you didn’t know one another and often heard about how lonely it was for individuals and groups as they carried on each day trying to make AfL work.

At this point, we are delighted with the progress and influence of CAfLN.  We have met in central Canada (Winnipeg), the far west (Nanaimo), eastern Ontario (Kingston) and the Prairies (Saskatoon) so far.  In May, we are coming together again, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.  People are connecting and sharing practices and insights about policy, practices, resources and strategies.

CAfLN is a not-for-profit organization.  All of the Board members are volunteers, and many of them fund their own travel to attend CAfLN events.  We do not pay speakers.  The presenters are generally CAfLN members whose travel and accommodation are covered for the conference.  Even more importantly, any funds generated by CAfLN are used to support CAfLN members attendance at annual conferences and to facilitate networking among CAfLN members across the country.

So, start planning now for our 5th Conference and Symposium Sailing Forward with Assessment for Learning in Dartmouth on May 4th-5th, 2018. Registration will open on November 1st. Apply for a travel scholarship and join us there. It should be a great event, with an emphasis on stories and presentations from your colleagues around the country, talking about the challenges and the innovative practices that are transforming assessment in Canadian schools.

 

But you don’t need to wait until May.  CAfLN is a network, not a club or an organization or an institute.  Why?  Because we know from research that:

networks can create the conditions to support individual and collective learning through intentionally fostering and developing the opportunities for members to examine their existing beliefs, and to challenge what they do – against new ideas, new knowledge, new skills, and even new dispositions (Stoll, Fink and Earl, 2003).

This is what we aspire to in CAfLN.  Networks of educators across the country who are focused on learning and on how assessment can be the catalyst and provide the support mechanisms to enhance learning for all students.  Educators who are committed to AfL are always learning, always intentionally seeking out and/or supporting activities, people and opportunities that push beyond the status quo.  Think about it.  Do you have an idea (or many ideas) to enhance CAfLN networks?  Share it. Suggest it.  Start it.  CAFLN, as a network, is us.  Together, we can make the difference.

Reflections on My Experience with Assessment Practice

Submitted by Beate Planche ED.D.

In considering what the influences have been on my own understanding of sound assessment practice, I think first of my experiences years ago with YRDSB’s assessment literacy project. As a team, with members across areas and schools, we put our understandings on the table – and supported each other’s thinking as we questioned long standing practices which were heavily influenced by percentages, grades, evaluation and school standings. We moved forward quickly and Assessment for Learning quickly became our collective learning goal and the underpinning of changed practice. It took us a while to truly unpack what Assessment as Learning really meant and there was no getting away from the pressure to have documentation for Assessment of Learning, that sleeping giant awakened at least three times a year at report card time in the lives of educators.

Here are a few of my personal discoveries:

Structure drives behavior:

The way we organize ourselves makes a difference to our professional behavior. System leaders who model a co-learning stance build credibility and commitment (Sharratt & Planche, 2016, p. 67). This was really driven home for me as principals, teachers, curriculum consultants and SO’s sat together to unpack classroom assessment practice. Good assessment practice takes time and it becomes dynamic when we can learn together or what now call co-learn. Making time for educators to work together is not a simple thing but a crucial ingredient to building capacity across classrooms and schools.

Some structures can drive learning:

Learning communities or learning networks can be effective when there is a clear goal that is understood and everyone is involved in defining what the criteria of success should be. The “what” needs to be followed by the “how” and the “when”.  It is the actions of the learning structure that make the difference for building capacity and improving instruction and assessment practice. Without accountable actions and monitoring, we might have wonderful professional conversations and not make a difference at all. What is hopeful is that using protocols for learning can focus the learning and mitigate the tendency of groups to spend a lot of time talking with not enough focused decision making and action.

There are pitfalls to consider:

We always have to consider the impact of any practice – instructional or assessment-based through the eyes of those who will be impacted by it. Students need to be a part of norm setting, creating success criteria and reinforcing goals if we want them to have ownership of their learning. As educators, we often control a great deal of the learning process to the detriment of student empowerment. We have to discuss more often what assessment looks like in an environment where we are gradually but intentionally trying to release responsibility. A case management approach can be highly effective for students who struggle (Sharratt & Fullan, 2012). It can make personalization very relevant for all the staff who are engaging with a student or group of students. This is not just a strategy for special education or ESL students. Assessment is a first step but the next steps are the most important ones. What will we feedback to the student is important and what will we feed forward for instructional purposes? A case management approach builds a team approach to serving students if everyone takes responsibility for their part of the “case”. Moderation of student work is one of the best ways to build trust and professionalism if it is facilitated well. There are skills sets involved in moderation that we need time to develop and practice. But this is so worth it! This is one of the foundations of collaborative learning that can make a significant difference.

What I am still wondering about:

Teaching through strengths is in its infancy in assessment practice from my experience.  We assess children and find out their gaps.  Do we talk enough about teaching through their strengths?  Do we value strengths enough to build assessments around them so that students can be as successful as possible or are there still underlying issues of what “fairness” looks like?  If a child has a modification to allow an area of strength to lead, is this truly seen as a levelling the playing field?  Lots to think about!   And thus, at this stage of my career where I have moved from public education to graduate education, I am left with one enduring truth. Learning is the work! Assessment practice needs to be primarily about learning!

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