In this edition of the Roundtable, host Tim Cavey connects with five educators from the Assessment Consortium of BC. The purpose of ACBC is “To foster growth in assessment literacy for educators in British Columbia that will lead to sustainable and equitable practices, benefiting learners from K to post-secondary.” Whether you’re a British Columbian educator or not, if you’re interested in learning more about assessment practices in K-16, this conversation is for you.
Select any of the timestamps listed below to jump to specific portions of the discussion. ⬇️
Questions and Timestamps from This Conversation
0:30 – Who are you and what is your current context in education?
Assessment Authors and Speakers Recommended by the Panelists
Carol Ann Tomlinson
Henry Roediger III
Mark A. McDaniel
Peter C. Brown
Listen to the Audio-Only Podcast Episode on Spotify
Catch the Next Teachers on Fire Roundtable LIVE
As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific/11:00 a.m. Eastern. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!
Connect with the Teachers on Fire Podcast on Social Media
In this edition of the Roundtable, I joined Darren Spyskma, Brenda Ball, and Tom Williams to discuss changing assessment practices, the power of professional learning networks, recent wins for our learning communities, and self-care strategies. This is our conversation.
Questions That Guided Our Discussion
1:30 – Who are you, and what is your current context in education?
3:30 – What are your thoughts on assessment practices in K-12 education today? What, in your view, needs to change?
13:06 – Despite the challenges of education in a pandemic, what is one win for learning that you are seeing right now?
21:13 – Why is it more important than ever to be a connected educator?
32:08 – How are you finding self-care during times of stress and uncertainty?
As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!
Connect with the Teachers on Fire Podcast on Social Media
RILEY DUECK is a sixth grade teacher in Surrey, BC, Canada. At the time of our recording, he was a second year educator, speaker, innovator, blogger, and the host of the Not Many of You Should Become Teachers podcast.
In his first year of teaching, Riley and his sixth grade colleagues were trying to address some negativity among their students. Even as they planned some fun events before spring break, the complaining from some corners didn’t seem to let up.
Peak frustration came one day for Riley as he was doing his best to hype one of these term-end activities with his class. As he was speaking, one student loudly interrupted him with an obnoxious “NOOOOO!”
Shocked, Riley admits to returning some verbal fire and letting this student know in no uncertain terms that their interruption had been extremely rude. But later in the day, when Riley found some time to follow up privately with the student, he discovered that the interruptor had actually been excited about the events Riley described and in fact was crushed that a family vacation would take him away from school a day before these fun events.
Riley realized that the student hadn’t been frustrated with him or his plans at all – just frustrated that his family’s travels meant that he would miss out. Thankfully, Riley was able to completely restore the relationship, and by the time they parted ways for spring break, all was well again. The incident was another good reminder for Riley that student behavior is often not exactly what it seems. There’s often more to the story.
How Can Faith Integrate with Learning?
Riley works at an independent faith-based middle school, so I put to him the question: why does faith belong in K-12 contexts at all?
Riley explains that a faith-based school wasn’t actually his original plan. Fresh out of university, his plan was to teach in a public setting where he would be able to work with underserved children. Hiring didn’t go quite the way he envisioned it, however, and months of soul-searching about his core values and mission led him to reconsider the path forward.
When a last-minute opportunity to take a sixth grade teaching position appeared, his initial misgivings melted away, and he started to see the positive aspects of teaching in a faith community as a person of faith. He thought about the ways in which his beliefs, passions, giftings, and creativity could be used to inspire students and actually “teach in ways that are authentically Christian.”
Riley isn’t interested in the traditional trappings of religion or Christian culture; instead, he’s passionate about showing students what it means to experience a real relationship with their Creator and love the world as he does. Other factors included the chance to coach volleyball and participate in international service initiatives in Africa and around the world – two other core passions that align with his values.
Finally, after taking the time to consider all angles, he decided to accept the offer to teach sixth grade in a faith-based school, and it’s been a fantastic journey so far. Every day, Riley is grateful for the opportunity to use learning experiences to lean into the life and love and restorative work of God in the world.
Not Many of You Should Become Teachers: the Podcast
Riley shares a passion for content creation. For years, most of his creative energies were directed to YouTube, but in recent years those energies have moved into podcasting. The podcast medium has become his medium of choice for discussions of faith and learning, and he enjoys doing exactly that with co-host Dave MacFarland, another former guest of Teachers on Fire.
The Not Many of You Should Become Teachers podcast takes its title from a warning found in the Bible’s book of James, where the author describes the critical importance of education. It’s an activity not to be taken lightly, the ancient writer implied. On the podcast, Riley and Dave maintain that spirit by exploring the field of teaching as a high calling and grand responsibility.
The podcast is also meant to start and continue discussions around Christian education today. What is its role and place in modern society? What should its mission be? What should a holistic study of the integrations between faith and learning include? In Riley’s view, the podcast fills a need for more critical conversations in these spaces. Although the hosts speak from the context of a faith-based school, Riley feels like public school teachers who have an interest in the intersections between faith and learning will enjoy their content as well.
How Does Content Creation Lead to Learning?
Riley looks back at his high school media classes as the catalyst for his current passions and activities around content creation. As an enneagram 7, the fun of trying new things, creating, sharing, and starting conversations easily overcomes the fear of creation and hitting the publish button that many wrestle with. Learning opportunities simply become more fun and engaging when we’re creating.
Riley’s also a believer in the growth mindset and the power of learning from mistakes; it’s when we step out of the comfort zone and take risks that we’re likely to grow the most. The people who have made the biggest impact in the world are generally those who have taken the greatest risks and overcome fears of failure, and this applies to relationships and community-building as much as it does to technology and communication.
Another Source of Fire in His Practice: Teaching Math
Something else that is setting Riley on fire in his practice at the moment is teaching Math. He regards Robert Kaplinsky as one of his key mentors in this area. “He’s a Math-teaching genius,” says Riley. “Anything that can be made problem-based in my Math class has become problem-based.”
From Kaplinsky, Riley has learned how to offer lower floors (easier on-ramps) for engagement and learning while also offering higher ceilings and opportunities for further growth and extended learning.
A Professional Goal: More Indigenous Integrations
Riley has a couple of professional goals on the go. One of them is to do a better job of integrating First Nations content and pedagogy throughout his teaching practice. He sees a natural congruence between the Christian value of reconciliation and curricular mandates to recognize indigenous cultural values and ways of knowing.
Learning from Travel
“I love travel and tourism and the leadership opportunities that come with that,” Riley says. He’s worked with AirBnB to offer tour experiences in downtown Vancouver, and he’s the sort of traveler that carefully researches every aspect of future trips in order to absolutely maximize his time and take advantage of every opportunity in foreign destinations.
Essentialism: Doing Less to Do More
“I have a love-hate relationship with productivity and self-help,” Riley laughs. He points to Gregory McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less as a book that shaped his thinking in a profound way in terms of narrowing his focus and avoiding overwhelm. Contrary to conventional thought, we can actually be more effective and productive by doing less, McKeown argues.
Voices and Resources That Spark Riley’s Thinking
On Twitter, Riley recommends following @TobyATravis. He’s the superintendent of Village Christian Academy in Fayetteville, NC, and he’s got a grounded vision for what Christian education can be. He also points to his podcasting co-host, @MrMcFTeaches, as someone who tweets a lot of valuable insights around teaching, current events, social studies, faith and learning, and more.
When asked for an edtech tool pick, Riley shouts out Google Classroom. He’s continually impressed by the ways that Classroom improves and continues to serve educators and students well. Follow Google Classroom on Twitter @GoogleForEdu.
On YouTube, Riley still enjoys the legendary PewDiePie. PewDiePie is a reader, a thinker, and an excellent commentator on what is going on in the world. He uses clever memes to communicate his message, and he’s simply entertaining.
At the time of this recording, Riley had cancelled his Netflix subscription. His entertainment choices were skewing old school with Survivor Season 40.
As we said our goodbyes, Riley gave us the best ways to reach out and connect. See below for details.
Highlights from my learning at the 2019 CAFLN Conference
Something that my friend and incredible educator Rose Pillay has reminded me of more than once is that professional learning has a better chance of penetrating our consciousness and altering our practice if we actually take the time to intentionally reflect and write about that learning.
That was the motivation for this piece. My aim? To preserve some of the highlights of my learning from the 2019 Canadian Assessment for Learning Network (CAFLN) Conference. Welcome to my journal.
CAFLN exists to share and mobilize knowledge about Assessment for Learning (AfL). On May 2–3 of 2019, CAFLN held their sixth annual national conference and symposium in Delta, BC. The event was hosted by Delta School District’s Principal of Innovation and Inquiry, Brooke Moore, and the Director of Learning Services, Neil Stephenson.
I was thrilled to attend this event with a few of my middle school colleagues and administrators. What follows is a curation of Twitter highlights, photos, and short reflections from this event.
Day 1: School Tour
The conference started off with a tour of local elementary schools that have completely embraced standards-based assessment. Notice the learning targets for educators on the right side of our itineraries.
Gray Elementary had a lot of signage that consistently articulated principles of formative assessment and learning targets. Student agency and ownership of learning is clearly a priority here.
Over at Holly Elementary, we noticed a bulletin board display of educator learning. Each staff member answered these three questions:
What are you learning?
How’s it going?
Where to next?
This is such a brilliant way to model a culture of learning and growth mindset in your school community. I was very impressed, and I hope our school does something similar in the fall.
Here are a few zoomed-in examples:
I also liked the way another teacher added kid-friendly descriptors to each of the proficiency levels (emerging, developing, accomplishing, and extending). Notice how the students have placed post-it notes to assess their own progress.
The Big Three Questions (below) came up often in our tour as well. These questions really capture it all, don’t they? This isn’t just a powerful metacognitive practice for students — it could also be used by us as educators as we think about further growth in our own professional practice.
Delta Farm Roots
At the end of Day 1, we visited Delta Farm Roots. This is a highly innovative high school facility that is building most of our provincially mandated curriculum around project-based learning. These high school students are applying all the skills and content they are required to master as they run a small farm. It’s a brilliant concept and an impressive undertaking.
Here, Jacob Martens explains a little bit of what goes on in this multipurpose learning area.
We also explored the gardens that students must hoe, cultivate, plant, and maintain. Lots of STEM skills and activities required!
The conference hosts then invited visiting educators for a dinner behind the main building. Not pictured here is the ocean — just a short walk away.
Delta Farm Roots is an exciting example of what is possible in pure project-based learning. Follow them on Twitter to see more of what they’re all about.
Kaser and Halbert also reminded us of the Spiral of Inquiry, a powerful cycle that can drive continuous growth and improvement for any learning community.
Damian Cooper and Karen Fadum
Then there were these gems from Damian Cooper and Karen Fadum, who tag-teamed on the philosophy and applications of formative assessment in the classroom.
Although I didn’t seem to be able to tweet out much from Karen Fadum, she shared some gems as well. Here were a few things I got down in my notes in Google Docs.
First, Karen talked about the business of assessment in education as a collaborative experience. Traditional models of assessment relied exclusively on the teacher, but think of all the ways we can include students today:
Uncover the curriculum together
Learning intentions — set with students
Student-captured evidence of learning
Next, Karen unpacked these points a little further. Instead of “covering the curriculum,” why don’t we flip the paradigm and UNcover curriculum with students? We’re talking about …
Connections with student passions and interests
Digital portfolio organization
Karen shared a number of practical applications of co-constructed criteria, self-assessment, peer assessment, single-point rubrics, and student documentation of evidence of learning. She shared videos from her practice, too, and these were super helpful.
She ended with this challenge: How do you currently involve students in the process of assessment?
After Damian Cooper and Karen Fadum, I visited a session led by Christine Younghusband — an educator I had long admired on Twitter but never met in person. She was amazing.
YES. Building more checks for understanding and formative assessment into my Math classes is an important goal for me.
Then, this challenge from an assessment legend.
And how about this mic drop?
Jon Orr and Kyle Pearce
In the afternoon, I had the pleasure of meeting two exciting educators who are doing amazing work in Mathematics. I don’t have a selfie or Tweet to share here, but this session summary gives you a feel for their message.
Jon Orr and Kyle Pearce are two dynamic but down-to-earth practitioners who understand the challenges around engagement and the wide range of proficiencies in the modern Math classroom. They’re worth following!
I was also thrilled to learn that they have a podcast, Make Math Moments that Matter, and I got a promise from them that they would come on my own Teachers on Fire podcast. I look forward to more learning with these two in the future.
This was my first CAFLN conference, but I hope it won’t be my last. To put it simply, I’ve never been part of an assessment event so focused, so progressive, so high value as this one.
If you’re ready to rethink your assessment practices and learn more about your assessment FOR learning, connecting with CAFLN on Twitter would be a good place to start.
CHRISTINE YOUNGHUSBAND is passionate about teaching and learning and the role of leadership in enhancing the student learning experience in K-12 and higher education. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership in 2017 from Simon Fraser University (SFU) and is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in the B.Ed. Teacher Education Program and M.Ed. Leadership Program.
Her 25-year career in education includes teaching secondary mathematics and science in BC public schools and contributing to the provincial Math curriculum redesign. Christine is a learner first, and her teaching practice is guided by her inquiry and curiosity. She “learns by doing” with a willingness to try, take risks, and try again. She values learning experientially as a reflective practitioner.
Leaving the Classroom
Christine recalls a period about ten years ago when she actually left the classroom and teaching. It was a heartwrenching decision because she loved her teaching areas, her students, and the work she had done to build positive cultures in her learning community. But personal circumstances outside of the school forced her to reconsider her core values and commitments, and so her professional journey took a new direction.
After a nice period of time that allowed her to give her young daughter lots of special attention, she made a return to education in the forms of doctoral work and a school trusteeship. She credits the trusteeship with giving her another unique perspective in education which helped her complete her dissertation, providing insights that continue to contribute to her current roles. She has since been involved in numerous curricular design committees and has contributed to countless projects, including some related to Math and indigenous education in British Columbia.
Changing Assessment Paradigms
Changes in assessment practices and policies are incremental, Christine says pragmatically. Transitions do take time, particularly shifts toward portfolio-based admission strategies and feedback models of assessment at the post-secondary level. At their core, formative feedback paradigms attempt to put the focus squarely on learning.
In some cases, it’s helpful to think of useful assessment models being used outside of academia, such as the pass-fail structure we see in swimming report cards. Can this swimmer swim for 50 meters? The “score” doesn’t matter in that context – it really only matters whether the swimmer can make it to 50 meters or not. One refreshing result of removing weights and percentages from her own course reporting at the post-secondary level is that students no longer make strategic calculations about which learning activities to focus on, which activities to really invest effort in, or which activities are worth skipping.
Formative assessment makes learning more meaningful, says Christine. There’s no risk to the learner – only the opportunity for growth, learning, and improvement. It’s just a constant cycle of pushing forward, receiving feedback, and pushing forward some more. In pass-fail environments, students learn — not to receive status or earn commendation, but because they are wholeheartedly intent on the learning itself.
Professional Learning Networks
Many of the students and teacher candidates that enter Christine’s education courses at the post-secondary level are not quite as engaged with social media as popular perceptions dictate, she says. One of the challenges of showing these students the learning opportunities available to them via professional learning networks is the idea that we tend not to teach or practice things that we haven’t experienced ourselves.
With that in mind, Christine asks her students to proactively create their own digital footprint in the form of e-portfolios, starting with who a thoughtful look at who they are as a person, because who we are is how we teach. Her students then begin a process of documenting their learning and growth as teacher candidates, and they also project forward to who they will be when they leave the program as practitioners.
She also asks her students to create a Twitter account and to begin participating in that space, even if it means more lurking than contributing at the beginning. As students begin to realize the tangible wins of support and resources available in eduTwitter, they encourage others to get involved. It’s been fun to watch the #UNBCed and #BCedchat communities grow and gain momentum.
Weaving the Disciplines Together
Something that has really been igniting Christine’s interest and curiosity of late is the activity of weaving. She comes into this space very consciously a learner, and she sees all kinds of literal and metaphorical integrations with culture, indigenous learning, coding, numeracy, kinesthetic learning, and the environment. It’s an activity rich with application and extension, and it’s also good for the spirit. Speaking of numeracy, Christine says that “Everyone can do math – we just have different entry points.” For some learners, weaving might be one of those entry points.
Professional Goals for 2020
Christine’s #OneWord2019 was WRITE, and although she looks forward to doing more published academic work, she looks back with satisfaction on all the writing that she was able to complete last year. This year, her OneWord is TENURE — not that she’s currently on a tenure track as a professor, but she seeks to move into the mindset of research, publishing, academic connections and collaboration.
Part of the challenge, Christine laughs, is to simply get over herself: as Brene Brown writes, to get past the senses of shame and inadequacy that we all wrestle with and simply get on with the work that is important to her. This will look like more academic contributions this year, and it may also include some personal work with sentimental significance, including a memoir about her mother.
Personal Learning: Weaving, Music, and Curling
When asked about personal passions and learning that ignites her passions when she leaves the UNBC campus, Christine can’t help but point back to weaving. She’s been enjoying weaving on Thursday nights at a community makerspace event, and she thinks part of the attraction is an interest in things she can’t do well. When she looks at weaving, she sees challenges with fine motor skills and coordination, but she knows that with time and persistence will come mastery.
Looking elsewhere, it’s also been a pleasure to discover the musical talents and passions of several of her peers in the UNBC faculty. Christine is also committed to rekindling a former passion: getting back to the curling rink. (For those from warmer climes, curling is essentially shuffleboard on ice.)
“I’m one of those people that works best under pressure,” Christine laughs. She’s not one for apps, routines, or hacks — she simply does the work that needs to get done by the time it needs to be done. Learning happens in community, so when we don’t complete contributions of learning by agreed-upon times, it affects the learning of others. Social responsibility compels us to honor deadlines more than penalties or money ever can.
Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Practice
Over on Twitter, Christine recommends following Nolle Pepin @Beaded_Tweets. Noelle is an indigenous educator whose work in weaving has been a big source of inspiration for Christine.
Dr. Christine’s pick for edtech tools is a classic: Google Docs. She asks her students to use Google Docs to annotate texts collaboratively, posting comments, asking questions, and responding to classmates on the same Doc.