Tuesday, October 20, 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, September 23, 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, September 16, 2015

Leading is a Learning Person's Job

“In other words, teaching is a thinking person’s job.”  With that statement, Charlotte Danielson argues that professional conversations should be about cognition and sharing perspectives about the hundreds of decisions that teachers make each day (Framing Discussions about Teaching, Educational Leadership, April 2015, Volume 72, Number 7).  I have thought about this nine-word sentence a lot since I read it a few months ago.  Not only did its simplicity strike me and the possibilities that it offers are endless.  But what might a parallel statement be for leaders?  Leading is most definitely a “thinking person’s job” and yet that does not quite capture our most recent work, writing, and research about impactful leadership (see January 2015 blog posting). 

Leading is a learning person’s job.   This six-word statement, for me, summarizes the essence of leading.  In my past work as an assistant superintendent, school leader, and district consultant, I was often asked for advice.  “What is the most important characteristic of a leader?” or “What advice do you have for me as I begin my new leadership position?”  And for me, the response came simply.  The only way that I know how to lead is to learn. 

The phrase “instructional leadership” is tossed about like candy at Halloween.  The title of “principal” came from the term “principal teacher.”  Our work as leaders has always presupposed a core of learning and that is why people may respond to the phrase “Leading is a learning person’s job” with the sentiment that it is a “no-brainer.”  And yet, it calls us to reflect and ask ourselves questions such as, “In what ways am I making my learning visible to others?” or “In what ways might I engage in my learning so that it is clear that my work is not only administrative and managerial?” or “How might I share evidence of my learning with my colleagues?” 

Several school districts with whom I am working are examining these questions closely.  In one school board, principals, during their classroom walkthroughs, share with staff and students what they are learning about as a result of their personal, professional inquiry.  This does not happen each day or every second day, but, from time-to-time, these leaders state out loud that which they have learned.  They no longer only ask the students what they are learning as they enter classrooms.  They situate themselves very publicly as learners.

In another school district, a catchment area of about 35 K-12 principals have committed to model classroom instructional strategies through their leadership practice.  For example, in the first three months of school, they agreed to co-construct criteria with a group of adults – whether it was a secondary department, the entire faculty, the parent council, etc.  These principals brought evidence of that work to their principal’s meeting and talked about the experience, but they did so only after sharing that very evidence with their colleagues back in their buildings.

In each of these two examples, the leaders are deliberately, consciously, and publicly taking the stance of learner.  Of course leaders are learners.  What principal or superintendent or director would say that they don’t learn each and every day?  However, these learners are communicating their learning to others, just as we ask students to do so in multiple ways each and every day.

I am certain that the work that we are planning to do alongside one other, as I travel across Canada and the United States, will assist me to think more deeply about that statement “Leading is a learning person’s job” and to better respond to the questions of the third paragraph.  I look forward to the opportunities that our conversations and our learning will present.

Wednesday, August 19, 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, July 17, 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, June 17, 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, May 5, 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.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Triangulation: I Understand the “Why,” Now Please Tell Me the “When”

In the last four weeks and across several provinces, there is one question that is being asked over and over again – “I know that it is a good idea to gather evidence of student learning from more than product, but when does it make sense to gather evidence from observations and conversations?”  Maybe this question is surfacing as a result of impending mid-semester report cards or perhaps it is because curricular redesign is resulting in a renewed focus on triangulated evidence.  Whether it is because of these reasons or something else, it is a question worth asking and one worth thinking more about.

Triangulation – gathering evidence from multiple sources over time – is based on research in the areas of social sciences.  Look to Lincoln and Guba (1984) for an early reference and to current provincial policy statements from most jurisdictions in Canada for more contemporary citations.  Growing Success by the Ontario Ministry of Education (2010) and the WNCP document, Rethinking Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind, (2006) offer two such examples.  Most times, triangulation is explained by suggesting that evidence of student learning can come from three sources specifically – products, observation of process by the teacher, and conversation between student and teacher, between student and student, and between the student and him- or herself.

Even though this sounds logical and understandable, the question remains – “When?”  In recent work in Northern Ontario with le Conseil scolaire public de nord est d’Ontario, we spoke of triangulation in the following four ways:

The term ‘triangulation’ is often accompanied by a drawing of an equilateral triangle, like this.

 For the mathematicians in the group, this offers a sense of equality; that is, if in a unit of study or over a cluster of lessons we gather 9 products, then we should also gather a commensurate 9 observations and 9 conversations.  Tell this to a physical education teacher or a technical vocational teacher and they might chuckle.  For them, equality in triangulation is an absurd concept.  And the same is true for all other subject areas.  For me, this is an inaccurate representation of the deeper purposes of triangulation.  Rather, we need to look to other cues to help us respond to the question of “When?”

Thinking about triangulation in relation to the notion of validity is helpful.  Validity can be described as “…extent to which the evidence from multiple sources matches the quality levels expected in light of the standards or learning outcomes” (Making Classroom Assessment Work by A. Davies, 2011).  Each subject area and its curricular documents or program of studies have outcomes, standards, learning expectations, or learning intentions that are best demonstrated through observations or conversations.  A simple example from Language Arts might be oral communication.  We don’t ask students to write something on paper in order to determine whether they can orally communicate.  Another example might be the safe use of materials and equipment during a Chemistry lab.  The most valid method to decide whether a student is engaging safely in a scientific investigation is to observe them engaging in a scientific investigation.

We identify outcomes that can be tightly coupled with either conversation or observation by referring again to our curricular documents.  For example, just a few days ago, I worked alongside a secondary science teacher in Ontario as we examined the Grade 11 Biology document to determine where it would best make sense to gather evidence from conversation.  Here are a few opportunities we found which require students to communicate their understanding orally and, therefore, in a valid manner:
·      One aspect of scientific literacy is the ability to represent scientific information in oral reports.  Areas for an oral report in Biology might be to consider critically the role of Biology in students’ daily lives and the impact of scientific developments on society and the environment from the field of Biology.
·      Communicate ideas, procedures, and results in a variety of forms (e.g., orally, in writing, using electronic presentations).
·      Through purposeful talk, students not only learn to communicate information but also explore and come to understand ideas and concepts; identify and solve problems; organize their experience and knowledge; and express and clarify their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

And yet, validity cannot be the complete response to the question of “When?”  For another perspective, let us look to the term ‘differentiation,’ which can be defined as the means of adapting instructional strategies to meet the needs of all students.  Triangulation as a method of differentiation makes good sense.  For example, in a Grade 11 Pre-Calculus classroom of 29 students, most students are able to write down how they arrived at an answer to a trigonometry problem.  In other words, they could represent their thinking and prove the steps that they had taken to accurately answer the problem.  As we know, our curricular documents require that students not only ‘get to an answer,’ but are able to communicate the means by which they arrived at that answer.  As stated earlier, most students are probably able to put that into the written word and symbol.  However, there may be a student or two who, though he/she arrived at the correct answer, has only a sketchy outline of the steps that were taken.  Nevertheless, you are certain that his thinking is much more comprehensive than those few words on the paper.  For that student, having him/her talk to you about the steps that he/she took allows you to be certain of your earlier hunch.  Leveraging technology and applications may make that even more efficient.  Instead of meeting you in a face-to-face conference, the student might submit an audio file or use Explain Everything to record his/her writing and explanation or create an aura in Aurasma.  The possibilities, though seemingly endless, still have, at their core, the notion that triangulation provide us with permission to collect evidence in a way that might better suit a student’s strengths and competencies.

And finally, as I reflect on the question of “When?”, I also think about taking a step back.  From time to time, our policy documents might lead us to believe that triangulation needs to occur at each moment in each lesson.  A more measured stance is one of surveying a unit or a cluster of lessons and, from that perspective, looking for triangulation.  To expect that triangulation needs to occur in a 30 or 70 minute class might be to set ourselves up for failure.  A phrase that I used earlier makes more sense to me – ‘over time.’  Can you, as you look at the evidence that you have collected over time, confidently say that it includes evidence from multiple sources?  This longer-term view serves us well.

These four points can be further illuminated by your experiences and understanding and yet, they serve to respond to a question that seems important to so many with whom I have worked recently.  As Peter Elbow stated, “Certainty stunts growth and learning.”  Posing questions is evidence of uncertainty and it is in that stance that we can inquire and learn together.  Thank you to the teachers and leaders of Edmonton Public Schools in Alberta, CSPNE in Ontario, and Mountain View School Division in Manitoba for asking questions that mean we can all learn more!