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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Continuous Reporting?

"What is continuous reporting? I want to students to do most of the work. What can it look like?"

"How is it possible to do e-portfolios with young children without using all my personal time? 

Can we even do it with the technology we have in this classroom - one iPad and Apple TV?"

The idea of continuous reporting is one that has great currency right now. And, it is certainly as idea that is possible given the technology that is available. However, moving to continuous reporting takes time and resources. It is important to examine what resources you have to make continuous reporting possible given your context. In the example below, I share the conversation I had with Kari Nye, a multi-age 1 and 2 teacher in the Comox Valley School District.


Kari Nye posed the questions above when I visited her multi-age 1-2 grade classroom this week. The context for her work is changing. There are massive curriculum changes underway. Report cards are also changing but teachers are being asked to explore different possibilities.

How did I respond? I began with a question, "It is the fifth week of classes, how are you involving students in the assessment process now?"

"We are looking at samples of student's work and we are talking about quality work. I show samples using the iPad and Apple TV. I ask students to share their ideas about what makes it a quality piece of writing. Then I ask them for one or two ideas that could make it a better piece of writing next time. I help students to be very specific. We point to the evidence in the samples. We've been doing this since the beginning of the year."

"We have just started to co-construct criteria because the students are pretty good at identifying quality in work samples I show. I began by asking them what are the signs of a good drawing book." 

"After I asked students to choose a piece of work of good quality and put a pink sticky note on it. Then I gave each student 5 sticky 'stars' to place on their work to show evidence of each of the five criterion."

"I typed the criteria up (see lower left of sample below). Then I met with each student and they showed me the evidence for each criterion and they set a goal. The goal was highlighted in yellow."

As Kari showed the samples, I thought about how she was preparing students to be engaged in reporting - they were looking at samples of work, talking about quality attributes, developing success criteria, talking about possible 'next step' goals and showing proof of quality.

Then I asked, "How are you collecting evidence of learning now?"

Kari showed me a collection of large sheets of paper folding into a pocket. Each child had decorated the front of their own pocket. Inside each child had stored some selected pieces of work.

Then we had a conversation about reporting requirements and about the reporting process. Kari's students will be part of a student-parent-teacher conference. She wants students to be a large part of the reporting process. We talked about the need to show student learning over time so parents could see the learning. And the need for teachers to be present and involved as they need to both make and be seen to be making an informed professional judgement.

By the end of our conversation Kari had tentatively decided to continue having students collect their work into the large pocket folder. And, in order to help parents and students see progress over time, she planned to have a simple portfolio (see sample in photo below) that would include a beginning samples of reading, writing, numeracy and choices from early in the school year.

Then, before reporting, students would select another sample from the big pocket folder showing their growth and improvement in each area. They would do a self-assessment using a frame such as, "I used to... and now I...." The four pocket portfolio could be organized by term (e.g. Baseline, November, March) or by the subject areas (e.g. Reading, Writing, Numeracy, Choices). It is a portfolio structure I have written about in Making Classroom Assessment Work. It is simple. It works because it shows the learning progress of each child relative to where he/she started the year.

The big pocket folder, the four pocket folder along with a student-parent-teacher conference will be the major communication tool for reporting. Kari tentatively decided to continue the report card with categories such as exceeding, meeting, approaching and beginning because parents find the 'bottom-line" summary useful.

We also talked about using e-PEARL - an excellent portfolio program developed by Concordia University. Kari also decided to NOT use an e-portfolio because, given the lack of technology available in her classroom, she would be the one doing most of the work and students would not have the ownership they need.


In summary, as you consider the reporting process you have established and since the primary purpose of all assessment, evaluation and reporting is LEARNING, ask yourself,

"Will students learn from this process?"
"Will parents learn about their children through this process?"
 "Is it practical and possible from a teaching perspective?"

If the response to all these questions is, "YES!" then move forward with your plans.

If the response is, "Not quite..." then it is time to revisit and rethink your continuous reporting plans given the unique needs present in your context.

Send us your questions and comments either below this post or via email.

All my best,


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Wondering about Intellectual Rigour and Engagement

The 2nd Asia-Pacific EducationalAssessment Conference held early in September 2015 in Singapore was intellectually engaging. The conference proceedings were international in scope. I appreciated being able to listen to four other experts in the field of educational assessment as they gave their keynotes on a variety of topics.

Audience members listened attentively and asked thoughtful questions. During the ‘between’ session times, participants were deep in conversation. And, the presenters also had the opportunity to share ideas and perspectives with each other. We were a varied group and the conversation was wide-ranging.

For two packed days, I witnessed educators – teachers and school leaders - engaged in listening and learning about the ‘big picture’ of theory, research and practice in the area of educational assessment for two days.

After the final keynote session was completed and the last thank you’s and good-bye’s said, I found myself wondering about intellectual rigour and engagement.

As I reflected on the conferences I had been attending in North America designed for a similar audience – teachers and school leaders - I wondered if the differences I had noted were substantive in nature.

I wondered…

  • Are we challenging ourselves to look beyond our context or do we just want to be affirmed that we are doing it the ‘right way?’
  • Are we ‘North American centric’ or are we open to learning about educational assessment – theory, practice and research – from elsewhere?
  • Have we become consumers of the “fast food version” of theory, practice and research limited to 140 characters-worth of content? Or are we engaging in the kind of dialog that allows nuances to surface and complexity to be acknowledged?

I continue to reflect now that I’m home.

  • Is my professional reading is more limited than it used to be?
  • Are ‘Google preferences’ seducing me into thinking that I’m right after all my internet searches turn up lots of agreeable information?
  • Am I really challenging myself to be a learner in the complex field of classroom assessment?

It is true that Canadians have passed a ‘tipping point’ when it comes to classroom assessment. There is huge agreement on the importance of using assessment in the service of learning, on triangulating evidence of learning overtime so it is more reliable and valid and of the importance of leaders ‘walking the talk’ and using assessment in the service of adult, school and system learning.

The classroom assessment conversation is moving to a greater focus on ideas related to continuous reporting – How to do it? Who should do it?  How to make technology invisible as we place students and their learning in the center?

These are good questions. They are interesting questions. And yet, I wonder, are they the questions that will help us meet the challenges the future holds?

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Beginning the New School Year

It is August and for many educators (except those who have already begun the school year in July or last January)  it means our thoughts turn to the approaching school year. I love beginnings! And it is in August that I've always set my goals for the year and made plans to close the gap between where I am and where I want to be. Yes it is true! It seems I live 'assessment for learning' in every part of my life.

This year I'm posting the FIVE most popular back-to-school posts people thank me for time and time again. That saying -- If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail -- comes to mind as I invite you to plan for the best year ever!

Step One:  Planning to Begin with the End in Mind

Step Two: Planning for Reliable and Valid Evidence of Learning

Step Three: Planning to Involve Students in the Classroom Assessment Process

Step Four:  Planning to Involve Students in Communicating Evidence of their Learning

Step Five: Planning for Evaluation and Reporting

You might also find that making an assessment plan is a huge step-up to having a successful year. Download this Building an Assessment Plan from our FREE resources section of our website. It makes the whole process so easy!

Let us be the first to to say, "Happy New School Year!"

All our best,

Anne and Sandra

Friday, 17 July 2015

Shared Responsibility and Individual Accountability - Planning the First Days of School

What an experience! The institutes in Hawaii in June and early July were packed full of enthusiastic and thoughtful educators. It was wonderful!

During the two day teacher institute Sandra Herbst and I focused our sharing on ways to involve students deeply in the assessment process so as to promote engagement and learning.  During the leaders institute we focused on indicators of application – what does it look like when adults involve students in every aspect of their learning by thoughtfully using assessment in the service of learning.

We made lots of connections to the beginning days of school and yet, as I was traveling home and thinking about schools starting in early August, I thought that this post might be particularly timely.

After all, clear expectations for behaviors help everyone. Students come to understand what is expected by both their peers and by the adults in the classroom. When students help establish the expectations, they understand and are more likely to act responsibly within the agreed upon limits. The first days of school are the ideal time to work together – in fact, the first hours of school are the best!

Consider these steps:

1.     Explain to students that communities that work well together have agreed upon ways to get things done, to get along with one another, and to take care of one another. Because we are a new community, we are going to work together to define the way our classroom community is going to operate.

2.     Ask the students to individually note a couple of ideas of things they think are important. Ask students if anyone has ideas they will share with the larger group. Record all ideas. Start a list on chart paper – large enough so everyone can see.

3.     Then arrange students into groups of three or four. Ask the groups to think about what else is important so they will feel valued and respected. Ask for someone in each group to make some notes so they can remember the ideas from their discussion. 

4.     Every few minutes, ask the groups to share the ideas that are surfacing. Record the ideas on the chart paper. If an idea surfaces that initially makes no sense to you, ask about it. “Tell me more about why this is an important idea for you and your group.” Often the elaboration surfaces more than one idea. Record all the ideas. Be careful not to dismiss any idea. It is better to have duplicates at this point than to convey to a student that their thoughts ‘don’t matter.’

5.     Continue this process until all ideas have been surfaced and recorded. Don’t worry about letting this process continue over the first few days of school. Sometimes it takes that long to get everything surfaced. Every interaction that occurs in the community is potentially a source of ideas to debrief with the class. Interactions that both ‘work’ and ‘don’t work’ are equally valuable.

6.     Once all the ideas have been surfaced, it is time to group and sort them. A powerful process is to cut the ideas recorded on the chart paper into strips – one idea per strip. Have students each take one or two strips.  Each student is to find other students with strips that say similar things.  Once all the strips have been grouped, it is time to identify the ‘big idea’ that captures the strips in each group.  Then post the T-chart for all to see.

7.     Every hour or so, for the first few weeks, pause the class in session and ask them to consider each of the ideas on the chart. What evidence do they have that they are being a good member of the community? Do this frequently. It is important to prevent problems from occurring. If problems do occur then return to the list. What else do we need to add to our list so our classroom community doesn’t have this kind of problem again? Regularly ask students to reflect on the way the community is working.  Ask the students to write in their journals, post on the class bulletin board, and debrief during class meetings.

The classroom expectations, in this way, become gradually woven into the fabric of classroom interactions. Part of developing a community of learners is having everyone take responsibility for their actions. This process helps teachers and students build a safety net within which everyone can make positive decisions and become individually accountable for their actions.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

How Have You Bloomed This Year?

In North America, it is the end of one year. It will be the beginning of another school year before we know it. 

As teachers engage in ‘end of year’ activities, we reflect back and plan forward for next year. They are having students do the same. 
Celeste Krochak, when teaching Grade One students in Winnipeg, invited the students to consider how they had "bloomed." She began by reading Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus.
She asked them to reflect, How have you bloomed this year in Grade One? 

Students shared lots of ideas. 

Then Celeste had them collect the evidence that they had bloomed – "What is something you did when you first were in Grade One? How can you show that you have bloomed?"

Students thoughtfully examined their work from the year. 

'What did they used to read? What can they now read?'

'How have they grown as a writer?'

They selected the 'before' and 'after' evidence of their blooming in a few areas of their learning.

It was so wonderful to see how the students had bloomed!

Teachers get to bloom too! It is one of the best parts of being a teacher. We are also learners. That's why this is the time of year when teachers ask, “What did I do well? What would I do differently? What will I do next year?”

Teachers know the research evidence regarding the powerful impact of classroom assessment is vast. We know that when students are involved in the process of assessment they learn more. 

This means that while the work teachers do related to assessment and evaluation makes a difference, the largest gains result from the work teachers engage students in doing. It is easier to say than to do. That's why we celebrate the changes we've made to our practice and we plan to continue to improve.

When reflecting on the actions taken to involve students in classroom assessment during the past year, there are seven questions educators are asking themselves:

  1. Was each student involved in the assessment process?
  2. Did each student know the learning destination?
  3. Were there samples or models to help them understand quality and development?
  4. Did students participate in the co-construction of criteria?
  5. Were students supported to be involved in relevant and realistic self- and peer assessment?
  6. Were students collecting, selecting, reflecting, and projecting (setting goals) based on evidence of their learning?
  7. Did each student communicate his/her learning to others, both formally and informally?

As you reflect, consider using this simple frame: 

I bloomed! I know this because...
Next year I plan to bloom MORE! I plan to...

And, like Celeste’s students, challenge yourself to find the ‘before’ and ‘after’ proof of blooming. 

Then, celebrate the blooming you’ve done! And, put your reflection and the evidence of your blooming into your professional portfolio.

Congratulations on another GREAT year of making a difference!

All our best,

Anne, Sandra, and Brenda

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Top 7 Questions High School Teachers Consider When Reporting

Recently I was able to spend two days in Fort Nelson, BC with a group of dedicated high school educators. They were taking time to reflect on what was working in terms of grading and reporting as well as what was not working. Like other high school educators, they are serving students whose needs are changing rapidly. Using classroom assessment in the service of student learning, while being respectful of the curricula they teach and the policies under which they work, is a challenge. We all shared ideas and challenged our assumptions and our practices. One frame we used was, Reasons to and Reasons Not to... I enjoyed our rich interesting discussions.

As we ended, I reminded them that there are many 'right answers' when it comes to this work - 'right answers' that are respectful of students' learning needs, teachers' needs, and the outcomes of the curricula. And, that said, there are important guidelines that support quality grading and reporting practices. They can be summed them up with seven questions (Herbst and Davies, 2014). I invite you to consider your grading and reporting practices through this lens.
Question #1:
Are students' report card grades reflective of a student’s most consistent, more recent pattern of performance in relation to agreed-upon standards, criteria, and pre-determined levels of quality and given for the full range of educational standards or outcomes? 
Question #2:
Are students' report card grades based upon a wide array of evidence selected because of its alignment with outcomes and standards and do they reflect informed teacher professional judgment of the level of quality of student work in relation to the standards or outcomes? 
Question #3:
Have you ensured that students' report card grades do NOT reflect data related to factors such as effort, attitude, attendance, and punctuality?  
Question #4:
Are students' report card grades determined after students have time and opportunity to learn, understood by students (both expectations and acceptable evidence) and after students have been involved in co-constructing criteria and collecting evidence of their learning? 
Question #5:
Are students' report card grades derived from evidence of learning present, not absent (thus devoid of practices such as assigning zeroes, grading on a curve, averaging, penalty deductions)? 
Question #6:
Are students' report card grades done in an environment where there are quality assurance and control processes to ensure consistency of interpretation? That is, are they validated by and anchored in collaborative conversation and analysis of student work against agreed-upon criteria, by teachers, across grade levels and subjects, to ensure consistency and fairness in judgment? 
Question #7:
Do your classroom assessment practices support student learning? If not, how might you change them so that they do?

To read more, go to A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting in High Schools (for teachers) and Transforming Schools and Systems Using Assessment: A Practical Guide (for leaders). To locate more helpful resources on this topic, join our FREE members' site here.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Celebrating Learning: Ask the students! Ask the teachers!

My birthday is coming up. Some people get super excited with celebrations – whatever happens, they know it will be great! I envy them. It isn’t my experience. Don’t get me wrong. I’m really appreciative to be healthy and looking forward to another fabulous year. My family loves to celebrate special occasions with me. What’s the problem? I guess I’ve yet to overcome years and years of celebrating my birthday having just moved to a new community, a new school, and not having any friends yet. Or perhaps it is the memory of my four older brothers and their idea of having fun – so different than mine. All I can say is celebrations of significant events planned by others can make me nervous. There are too many unknowns.

That’s why I have always appreciated teachers who understand that children often see ‘celebrations of learning’ as anything but occasions to celebrate. Cresta McIntosh is a educator who gets it! I was lucky enough to spend time in her classroom as she was preparing students to celebrate their learning with their parents with an at-home conference.

We know there are 7 steps to students learning through the assessment process. 

Cresta very thoughtfully:
  1. involved students in the assessment process,
  2. made sure they understood the learning destination and the purpose for learning,
  3. provided samples or models to help students understand quality and development,
  4. involved students in co-constructing criteria to build their understanding of quality and the language of assessment,
  5. involved students in relevant and realistic self- and peer assessment on a regular basis,
  6. involved students from the beginning in collecting, selecting, reflecting, and projecting (setting goals) based on evidence of their learning,
  7. made sure students had a significant role in communicating evidence of learning to others, both formally and informally.
When I was observing in the class, Cresta’s students were preparing for an at-home conference. The students had been involved in two at-school parent-student-teacher conferences at the end of the first and second terms. They had experience selecting key pieces of evidence of their learning. Now it is the end of the third term. The students and their parents know the process. And Cresta, having supported students in this area and observed how they have done, is confident students can conduct the conference at home.

Review the purpose of the conference.
Reviewing purpose of evidence and conference
Review the process of collecting evidence in relation to learning outcomes (curriculum) and learning goals (student set).
Review criteria for success.
Select evidence and explain what makes it evidence of learning.
Reflect on how they have improved and grown as learners.
Share with their teacher.
Practice with another student.

And head home with portfolios to celebrate with their family.
Student selecting evidence of learning.

It was a privilege to be present in this classroom. Amazing learning conversations! Amazing evidence of learning collected and shared! Amazing commitment to learning by all.

I started by explaining why celebrations make me nervous. It was because there were too many unknowns. That isn’t true of the celebrations in this class. Students know exactly what needs to be learned. They understand quality. They understand evidence. They have practice using the language of assessment as they have engaged in  self- and peer assessment. They are ready to show how much they’ve learned. There is a clear structure they have used at least twice before with their parents. There shouldn’t be any surprises!
Practicing at-home conference
What a powerful celebration of learning!

How about you and your students?

How do you celebrate learning?

Please share – here or with your colleagues.

All our best,

Anne, Sandra, and Brenda