How Can We Improve Assessment Practices?

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.

Image for post
Rose is pictured second from right. She’s incredible!

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.

Image for post

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.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

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?
Image for post

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:

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

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.

Image for post

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.

Image for post

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.

Image for post
Image for post

We also explored the gardens that students must hoe, cultivate, plant, and maintain. Lots of STEM skills and activities required!

Image for post

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.

Image for post

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.

Day 2: Conference Sessions & Workshops

Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert opened the conference on day 2 with a powerful reminder of our collective WHY — what is education all about. According to these leaders from the Networks of Inquiry and Indigenous Education, these should be our three goals for every learner in K-12.

Image for post

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.

Image for post

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.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

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
  • Co-constructed criteria
  • Self-assessment
  • Peer assessment
  • 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 …

  • Provocations
  • Wonder walls
  • Exploration time
  • 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?

Christine Younghusband

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.

Image for post

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.

Image for post

And how about this mic drop?

Image for post

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.

Image for post

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 Matterand 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.

Image for post

Conclusion

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.

Episode 103 – Lisa Johnson

103 - Lisa Johnson

Meet Lisa Johnson

LISA JOHNSON is an educator by day, blogger by night, and the author of Creatively Productive: Essential Skills for Tackling Time Wasters, Clearing the Clutter, and Succeeding in School—and Life.

She loves everything in Austin, Texas – except the heat! You’ll find her at Westlake High School, which serves almost 3,000 students with 220 teachers on staff. Her role has evolved from an educational technologist to a merged position that now includes curriculum specialist. Today, she works with a partner to support English and science instruction, and she also offers a range of services and seminars to students and parents related to all things digital.

When Content Creation is Seen as a Threat

Earlier in her career, Lisa was working for a different district and wanted to have a way to share and archive her thoughts, ideas, and lessons that she was developing for other educators. She was also concerned that if she ever left the district, everything she was creating and sharing would not only be gone for her but for everyone else that had enjoyed her resources outside of the school.

She eventually started her own blog, TechChef4U, and launched a podcast to support commuting teachers. In addition, she began to seriously build her professional learning network by connecting with like-minded educators on Twitter and on other platforms.

Eventually, Lisa was called in to visit the district office and was questioned about her blog and her loyalty to the district. She remembers being taken aback by the questions because all she wanted to do was support innovation and push boundaries in education.

Unfortunately, her blog activities didn’t sit well with this district, and she started looking for another job that summer. It wasn’t her intention to leave the district and uproot her family, but at some point, she says, you have to find your tribe – educators who share your goals, values, and vision for learning.

When she found her current district, she found people like her – people that wanted to innovate, push boundaries, ask questions and thrive. She’s thankful for an amazing team at her high school and an awesome principal that really values the work she does and lets teachers have the autonomy they need to lead and help others grow.

The Heart and Mission of Creatively Productive

Creatively Productive by Lisa Johnson

Lisa’s heart and mission has always been to create thoughtful and practical content for teachers that they can use immediately with their students. She loves working with secondary students and staff, and believes it is really important to focus on college and career readiness skills. Lisa has also been a keen observer of secondary school life has noticed some trends and needs over the past 7-8 years. Many of these trends and needs are addressed in this book.

Lisa is often asked to create, share, and teach content that relates to self-management and executive functioning skills, including note-taking, digital organization, goal-setting, habit tracking, and time management – twenty-first century skills that students need to thrive in high school and throughout their lives. She has also been working with librarians and the campuses across her school to do lunch-and-learns for students in order to support them regarding these topics and tools.

Instead of hoarding resources, Lisa has always wanted to curate and share with the greater edusphere. Rather than dump a bunch of one-size-fits-all formulas, her goal for Creatively Productive was to put together a selection of recipes that might inspire learners and educators from all contexts to adopt and adjust for their own purposes. This book represents more than just “Lisa’s thoughts on productivity” – it’s a practical playbook of suggested solutions and resources that come from the practical challenges and experiences that she has encountered in contexts of learning.

What Else Sets Lisa on 🔥 in Education

When her head isn’t in spaces of creativity, productivity, and time management, Lisa is thinking about digital literacy. Lately, she’s been reminded of the importance of thoughtful sharing and posting.

As educators, we’ve been saying it for what seems like forever, but our students need frequent reminders that the internet never forgets. We do our learners a huge service when we impress on them the need for awareness and sensitivity to the perceptions of others. The goal here is not to hide core identities and values as much as it is to consider the long-term implications of our content. How could this post affect my options in the future?

A Personal Passion with Application in Education

Lisa loves her reader’s notebook and credits it with helping her grow as a professional. She finds it cathartic to reflect on what she’s been reading and feels like she retains more ideas and information by adding to it frequently. Most importantly, her reader’s notebook also enables her to apply resonating content directly into her practice. She used to just shelve books without sharing what she was reading, but the reader’s notebook has forced her to slow down, process, apply, and share with others.

Her reader’s notebook routine includes trying to reproduce a version of the cover of the book she’s reading, collecting ephemera related to the book, writing a lexicon library of words and phrases, highlighting great quotes, and collecting points to consider or investigate further.

Lisa’s Favorite Productivity Tool: Passion Planners

Passion Planner“If I didn’t have my passion planner, I might as well not get out of bed,” Lisa laughs. Her Passion Planner is home to all her lists, priorities, ideas, and creative thinking throughout the day. She recently shared a video walkthrough of her Passion Planner that highlighted the tools she uses, including macro and micro lists (check it out on Instagram). She also loves her Polaroid Zip printer which prints photos on sticky backs, allowing her to savor the highlights from each week in scrapbook fashion.

Voices & Resources That Influence Lisa’s Thinking

Over on Twitter, Lisa recommends following Julie Smith @JGTechieTeacher, a reliable source of great edtech ideas and solutions for the classroom.

One handy edtech tool that supports student voice in the classroom is an iOS app called Equity Maps. The app helps teachers track who speaks in a discussion, for how long, who doesn’t speak, who interrupts, and so on. Follow the app’s maker, Dave Nelson, on Twitter @EquityMaps.

Lisa is all about mixing in some juicy fiction with her education and technology reading, and she’s got a couple of strong recommendations to share here. The first is Verity, written by Colleen Hoover, and the second is After: The After Series, Book 1 by Anna Todd. Both writers have shot into stardom fairly quickly, and Lisa was privileged to meet both of them in person at a recent Book Bonanza event in Dallas.

As for podcasts, Lisa shares two picks: Change the Narrative by Michael Hernandez, and The Shake Up Learning Show with the legendary Kasey Bell

Sticking with the Passion Planner theme, when Lisa is on YouTube she is checking in with the Passion Planner channel

And finally, just for fun: when Lisa finds time for Netflix, she’s tuning into shows about women who do things differently! Her first shoutout goes to GLOW and the second to Working Moms.

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Lisa gives us the best ways to reach out to her. See below for details!

You can connect with Lisa …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel!