Why are we still talking about formative assessment?

Sherry Bennett: Reflections after Two Decades of Learning with AAC

My first encounter with the Alberta Assessment Consortium was in 1999, when Robert Hogg, new to his role as AAC Executive Director, invited me to join the AAC summer development workshop. Through many conversations about this thing called ‘assessment for learning’, I gained insights about teaching and learning that I hadn’t even considered prior to that time.

The Black and Wiliam meta-analysis was only a year old, and what I didn’t know at the time, was that the work we were about was truly ground breaking. What I did know, was that it resonated with me. It made sense, and gave me a whole new outlook on my teaching career.

I was still in the classroom at that time, and had the opportunity to try out these new ideas – performance tasks, rubrics, criteria, feedback, exemplars – with real students. I also had the opportunity to explain these concepts to parents, and to celebrate student growth and learning during family/teacher conferences.

I’m the first to admit that my early assessment work was not very refined. Those non-examples that we use in the AAC workshops – some of them came from my files! One of the most important things that I learned during my personal assessment journey was the value of feedback. I was mentored by three truly great educators who helped me embrace feedback as the essence of learning for every learner – students and adults.

It was also the time of the AISI projects in Alberta, and the nature of the three-year funding cycle had the unintended consequence of assessment for learning taking on ‘initiative’ status. You would hear statements such as, “We did assessment last cycle. We’re doing differentiation now.” As if you could ever be done assessment..

So why are we still talking about formative assessment? With all of the work in Alberta over the past 27 years, why are we not there yet?

 

I think it would be erroneous to suggest that we haven’t made progress during the almost three decades AAC has been in existence. But I’m not sure that formative assessment is an end unto itself. It’s not a place where you arrive.

Sure – you can try to track the use of formative assessment through online gradebooks, staff surveys, instructional walk-throughs, and the like – but true formative assessment is something that needs to be embraced by each educator. It’s a belief in the worth of students –every student – and a commitment to do whatever it takes to help them learn.

It’s not about comparing kids with each other and creating winners and losers. And it’s not about being ‘soft’ on kids, or giving ‘participation ribbons’ as the naysayers claim.

It’s about helping students clearly see the learning destination, reflect candidly about where they are at the moment, and consider their next steps in their own learning journey. We help students learn to give and receive feedback, and to value those opportunities.

Ultimately, our job is to help develop confident, resilient, lifelong learners. We do this by creating an assessment environment where it really is OK to take risks, and where learning is what is valued. 

I think most educators value these things, but it’s hard not to get distracted with a new online reporting program or the latest published provincial school rankings. But we have to remember that the research base claiming the positive impact on student learning is within the realm of formative assessment – not summative. 

It’s interesting to note how closely our collective jurisdiction mission and vision statements mirror the ideas of formative assessment. We all talk about success for all students, but sometimes our focus on summative assessment and reporting clouds our vision. It doesn’t have to. 

So why are we still talking about formative assessment? Well frankly, because what else really matters?

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated!

Pat Lore: Reflections at the End of a 9-Year Secondment

Have you ever felt like you were in a relationship that just wasn’t working as well as you wanted it to? That wasn’t helping you live your best life? 

I have, and that relationship is with assessment.

I’m closing in on the end of my 9-year secondment with AAC. Those 9 years provided me with a priceless opportunity to reflect on classroom assessment and how it impacts our role as educators. As well, I’ve had plenty of time to consider how assessment is perceived by leaders, teachers, students, and parents.

My experience with AAC, working with amazing teachers and leaders across the province, leads me to believe that, in general, we don’t have the healthiest relationship with assessment. Our current predicament has shone a light on that. Right now, the only assessment question we should be asking ourselves is, “What do I need to know about my students so I can keep their learning moving forward?” Instead, it feels like we’re spending too much energy asking, “How will I get enough evidence to assign grades?”

Another massive concern right now is about cheating and how to prevent it. It’s interesting to me, and a bit sad. Why are some students “cheating” on tasks and assessments? Why are parents helping them, or in some cases doing the work themselves? We’ve already established that, for once in our lives, the grade on the work doesn’t really matter. Instead of bemoaning the fact that this little secret has been shared with students and their families (“Now how am I going to make them do any work?”) maybe we should be celebrating! We have been given the perfect moment in time to rethink our relationship with assessment.

So what happens when we suddenly find ourselves in a world where marks and grades have lost their currency? We need to help students and their families realize that the true value in assessment, whatever its form, is the feedback it provides, to teachers and students alike, about where students are in their learning and what the next steps might be. Assessment helps us help our students. It’s about nurturing and supporting learners, not weighing and measuring them. And students need to be partners in the process.

At the same time, we need to critically reflect on the work we ask of our students. Is it meaningful? Authentic? Intriguing? Purposeful? If students don’t see or understand the value of the work, how can we expect them to care about doing it, let alone doing it well?

After my extended absence, I’m heading back to the classroom next year. I’m excited and apprehensive in almost equal measure. You may have noticed that this post is long on questions and short on answers. It’s because this work is so challenging, and I know for sure that I don’t have all the answers. I wonder what my own students would have said if I had ever thought to ask them what assessment was for. Or why it was important. Or even what it looked like. I’m afraid they would have answered that assessment is about me passing judgment on them. And while it may be true that sometimes assessment serves that purpose, it’s not what should ever matter most.

We’ve been given an opportunity to set aside grades for this moment in time. Let’s use this opportunity to build a different, and better, relationship with assessment!

How DO You Keep Your Students Coming Back?

9 Big Ideas about Student Engagement and Motivation – for This Year and Every Year!

It can be hard enough to keep students interested in their school work when spring arrives and the weather warms up. This spring poses special challenges. Students are parents are growing increasingly weary with the schooling situation they find themselves in, and many teachers are noticing a steep drop-off in the engagement of their students.

 

We’ve more or less lost the ability to use grades as “carrots and sticks” to motivate (or punish) our students, and this could be a good thing. Maybe we should embrace this moment in time, and use it to question why we ever allowed marks to matter so much in the first place. Are they really the only reason our students would ever feel compelled to do the work we assign? If so, let’s admit that we have a problem!

 

So, if grades won’t do the trick, we need to rethink the learning experiences we’re offering our students. Here at AAC we have some ideas that might help you hold onto your kids, and continue the learning this spring. And as a bonus, these are important ideas for us to think about anytime.

 

1

Take a good hard look at what you’re asking your students to do. Is there something of genuine interest in the work? Is it intriguing in some way? Could it spark their curiosity? If you feel bored by the work you’re assigning, imagine how your students are feeling right about now.

2

Do your best to assign work that’s relevant in some way to the lives of your kids – authentic and meaningful. This is an unprecedented time in their world, and their lives have changed in so many ways. Do your best to connect the tasks you assign to some of the things going on in their world.

3

Make sure you know why you’re asking students to do a task. Are you clear on the learning goal? Is it truly worthwhile, and will the task help students achieve it? Do your students understand the goal, and why it’s important? Building a shared understanding the learning goals can go a long way toward helping students care about the work.

4

Success is motivating, in and of itself. Does the work you’re assigning provide all your students with an opportunity to succeed? Often, the students we are most likely to “lose” are those who have not experienced much success in school. For those students, you might want to consider breaking tasks into smaller chunks, and let them get used to the idea that they can be successful. After all, it’s not a competition. It won’t matter if some students are doing different things than other students. 

5

Give students choice whenever possible. None of us feel like we have much control right now, and that can lead to feelings of hopelessness and disengagement. By providing choice, you can help your students rebuild a sense of control. How will they demonstrate their learning? Which question(s) will they answer? What topic will they explore? Who they will interview? The possibilities for choice are endless!

6

Provide an audience for your students’ work. Is there a way for them to post their project online, for their class or for a wider audience? Can they share it with family members, or with the community in some way? An audience provides an additional sense of purpose, and makes the quality of the work matter.

7

Learning is, at its heart, a very social endeavor. Try to find ways in which students can collaborate with others. If technology skills and infrastructure are up to it, things like breakout rooms make it possible for students to have discussions or solve problems collaboratively. Shared documents allow students to work together on a task, and with grades no longer very relevant, we don’t have to stress about assigning marks in a group project. You might also encourage students to work with a family member, and create something together.

8

Have fun! Do your best to provide activities that are hands-on, or that allow students to step away from their work space and get active. An outdoor shape scavenger hunt, with a camera to capture and share what you find, beats any number of math worksheets, any day.

9

And finally? Like always, what matters most is building and maintaining positive relationships. Make sure you reach out and connect with your students and their families in as many ways as you can possibly imagine. Find out how they’re doing, and what you can do to help – what’s working for them and what problems they’re facing. Give your students time to share their thoughts, feelings, questions, and concerns with you. Help parents and care-givers understand that you’re there to help, and that the relationships they build with their children right now matter more than completing every assignment.

We hope there’s something here that sparks ideas on your part. We’ll end by channeling one of our AAC mentors, Rick Stiggins, by asking the question: What could you ask your students to do tomorrow that they wouldn’t want to miss?

Parents as Partners

We’ve heard this a lot – but now more than ever, parents are essential partners in our students’ education.

Let’s be clear – we haven’t moved to wholesale home schooling, but rather to learning at home. There is a fundamental difference in that language. Teachers are still very much responsible for making decisions regarding instructional programming for students. And yet, we must make a fundamental shift in how we see our work. Now more than ever, we need to see parents as partners.

Alberta Education has provided direction as to the amount of work students could be expected to accomplish. For elementary students, that works out to about 20% of a ‘normal’ school day, week, month…

But what we are experiencing is not normal, and so whatever content and skills you usually ‘cover’ at this time of year in 100% of the time, for the sake of everyone involved, please put those expectations aside. Your students will not be able to manage. Neither will their parents and neither will you.

No student will be behind. Every student in Alberta is experiencing a lengthy disruption to their normal year of school. It sounds a bit trite to say that we are all in this together, but we actually are! No student is going to be able to accomplish all the learning tasks that are normally assigned during this period of time. And if they do, it’s because they have an exceptional base of support, and those tend to be our students who are most advantaged at the best of times. These are not the best of times.

Just as teachers always do, this is an important time to differentiate for students. Some parents are asking you for more work, and others are saying that it’s too much. The media is offering a glimpse into the reality of learning at home, and parents across the country are beginning to ‘opt out’ of the pressure.

Such a decision would no doubt be difficult for any teacher to experience, so what can we do to try to avoid receiving such a drastic response, while still being true to our professional responsibilities? Our AAC team offers four suggestions for helping to avert a crisis.

1

Define the Rocks

Most of us have likely forgotten much of the content we learned over our years of schooling. But what we haven’t forgotten, are the key skills that we continue to use in our daily lives – how to differentiate fact from opinion, how to support an argument, how to organize our thoughts within oral and written communication, how to use mental math to estimate, how to double or halve a recipe, and on and on it goes.

With such limited time available for learning for the remainder of this year, consider that the skills within any program of studies are the ‘rocks’ that should go into the learning jar first. Any content learning can then filter in like sand and find its rightful place.

Worksheets will only engage students for so long. Few of us would be content to experience such a limited learning diet for an extended period of time, and it’s the same for our students. Which brings us to the next point…

2

Focus on Authentic Performance Tasks

Engage students through authentic tasks that will capture their interest – and their commitment to a project. Focus on key skills that apply across a range of topics and contexts. The AAC website has over 250 samples of how learning outcomes can be addressed in tasks that have meaning for students. You’ll likely need to adapt what you find on the website to at-home learning.

Check out the following two AAC Talking Points on the topic of performance assessment for some helpful hints.

March 27, 2020

https://aac.ab.ca/performance-tasks-open-up-the-learning-possibilities-for-your-students-at-home/

January 22, 2020

https://aac.ab.ca/whats-all-the-fuss-about-performance-assessment/

Design a project that focuses on key skills from the curriculum, and that can play itself out within a context that you know will engage each student – or that the student suggests. And that leads to the next point…

3

Differentiate

For parents who are asking for more work, you can provide that for them. For parents who are asking for less, help them out. Reduce the number of worksheets and find ways to make learning part of normal everyday conversations.

Again, we have an AAC Talking Point with many suggestions for parents during this time of at-home learning. See what suggestions might be helpful as you reach out to parents.

AAC Talking Point March 25, 2020

https://aac.ab.ca/relationships-thats-what-matters-most-right-now/

4

Stop Focusing on Grades  

We keep saying this, but we feel we need to say it again. Yes, Alberta Education has indicated that students will receive a final grade, but they have not said what that final grade should be. Leaders – this decision rests with you.

Check out some recent AAC articles on this topic.

AAC Talking Point April 21, 2020

https://aac.ab.ca/the-new-normal-is-not-normal-so-lets-stop-pretending-that-grades-matter/

ATA News April 28, 2020 (p. 3)

https://mydigimag.rrd.com/publication/?m=61458&i=658651&p=2&ver=html5

International assessment experts have been doing webinars in Alberta. Everyone is saying the same thing. Stop focusing on grades. Whatever system you are using to ‘grade’ students, it will be inaccurate. It will reward students who are already advantaged, and penalize those with limited resources or who require additional supports or different strategies to optimize learning.

Credit’ can be the grade for this year. Ranking and sorting, if it must return, can be a focus for another time.

This is not a time to inadvertently allow any student to check out on their learning because they feel inadequate, discouraged, or disinterested. This is the time to make learning relevant and possible for every student.

And if parents ‘opt out’ from the carefully designed program you are offering, please don’t take it personally. The stress is real for families who are dealing with a myriad of unforeseen circumstances. Their child’s spelling mark or participation in the digital math game is likely the lowest priority for them right now. Decisions made by parents cannot and should not be seen as a reflection on you. Remember that meeting the Teaching Quality Standard is a career long endeavour, and we are all new to the new normal. Your professional learning is at an all-time high right now, and we trust that the suggestions we have provided will be helpful.

And remember, AAC members can access the AAC team through Zoom at no charge! Reach out to us and let us know what you need, and we’ll do our best to help. info@aac.ab.ca

Keep focused on the big picture. Signs of spring are finally here, and summer vacation will surely follow. This year, more than ever, we will all need to take a break from this unprecedented learning experiment. Stay hopeful. We’re counting on you to help guide this generation of children through a learning journey with no road map. Please take care of yourself – physically, emotionally, and professionally.

The ‘New Normal’ is Not Normal – So Let’s Stop Pretending that Grades Matter!

The most important thing we can do to help our students – and their families right now is to encourage them to take care of their physical and emotional health. We talk about hand washing and social distancing – but what if we gave emotional distancing from grades a try!

Whatever precision we believe we have created with our assessment plans, grading practices, and online reporting systems, none of that is relevant now. In the quest for the perceived accuracy of a percentage grade, we must be completely sure that our distance learning and assessment practices are not causing additional stress for our students, their families, and our teachers. Surely the Hippocratic oath of medical professionals to “first do no harm” is transportable to the teaching profession.

We are dealing with great disparities in the resources and supports available to our students. Some have devices, some do not, some are sharing with parents and siblings, and some have insufficient bandwidth to accomplish their assigned tasks. Some have parents who are fortunate to be able to work at home, some parents must leave home to go to work, and many have lost employment. Some of our students are caring for younger siblings while parents work. Some children are home alone long before they really should be. Any pre-existing family stress will be multiplied during this time of isolation. If our students’ mental health was a priority prior to this pandemic, it is exponentially relevant now.

Our online reporting systems, as amazing as they are, have one key limitation. They can’t think. Now more than ever we require teacher professional judgment to mediate whatever limited evidence they are able to obtain about what students know and can do. Professional judgment is so important that it is even listed within the TQS. Now is the time to highlight its value, and to help teachers understand that the grade book isn’t the sole determiner of student grades.

Grades are always an inaccurate representation of what students know and can do. Dylan Wiliam reminds us that measurement error is present in every form of assessment – even large scale assessment, but that’s a conversation that most people don’t want to have. Right now, grades are even more inaccurate than they have ever been, so stop grading! That’s the best advice we can give right now for K – 9 distance learning classrooms.

For high school where a percentage grade is required, please, please, please don’t ask your teachers to mimic the diploma format. There is no diploma this year. This is the opportunity for your teachers to create a relevant, engaging summative task that will allow students to use those higher order thinking skills. The entire world is focused on a rush for a cure, for a vaccine, for a testing protocol. The skills that our students will need to address the needs of their future don’t come from cracking the code of a multiple choice exam.

And let’s be clear that just because we are using technology doesn’t mean we are engaging in 21st century learning. Worksheets delivered by email or through an online learning portal that are focused on low-level recall and comprehension are not proxy for rich curriculum – even our current curriculum.

We may have touched a nerve with this column, and for that we will channel Dylan again. Dylan shared a poster he observed in a teacher’s classroom, which stated: Frustrated? Confused? Good! It was worth coming to school today!

So if we have touched a nerve, may we humbly say, “Good! We’re glad you read to the end of this column!”

Please, for the sake of your students’ – and your teachers’ mental health, please carefully consider, and be prepared to rethink, the assessment practices that you have put in place during this pandemic.

In fairness, we believe leaders have been doing the best they can. There was no warning, no time to prepare. But now that we are in this, and it looks like it will be this way for a while yet, let’s take a moment to rethink. Let’s be sure that all the great things we’ve learned together over the years about formative assessment don’t go out the window. An over-reliance on things that are easy to measure soon translates into us valuing those things. And once that happens, it will be very difficult to stop that train…

Teachers are bound to follow the directives they receive from you as their leaders. If Alberta Education is giving school principals discretionary authority to award high school credits in the absence of the usual evidence of learning, then surely we can work with our teachers to adjust what appropriate evidence of learning looks like. In the absence of the typical provincial accountability framework, let’s not rush to create one of our own.

For our AAC members, we are always available to talk with you about ways to adapt assessment practices. Now more than ever we are available to help.

What if this was the ‘watershed’ moment that placed the research on formative assessment front and centre – for the sake of our students? What if this extraordinary moment in time gave us the opportunity to reimagine our assessment practices? What if you were the leaders who were able to champion that movement?

Let’s talk!

info@aac.ab.ca

Performance Tasks – Open up the Learning Possibilities for your Students at Home!

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that AAC has a collection of performance tasks on our website, designed for teachers to use with their students in class. Maybe you’ve even used some of them in the past. Some tasks are available only to AAC members, but there are others, particularly in middle grades social studies and high school mathematics that have been developed through Alberta Education grant funding that are available to the public.

In our ‘new normal’ of distance learning, performance tasks are a great way to provide your students with something a little different to do at home, that still keeps them focused on important learning. You’ll likely want to make some adjustments, but you can make performance tasks work for your students at home!

First of all, if you haven’t already, you might want to start by reading a recent Assessment Talking Point about performance assessment: What’s all the fuss about performance assessment? Many of the tips in that post will be important to remember now.

A good performance task is open-ended, providing entry points for students at all levels. It focuses on big ideas and important learning, but for now at least, step away from the rubric! There is no need to grade these tasks in any way. Instead, look for ways in which your students can share their learning with you, their classmates, and any other audiences you can envision. It’s not about the grade. In fact, it should never have been about the grade, but that’s a topic for another day!

So… here are the new Top Ten Things to Consider when using performance tasks through at-home learning.

1

Find a task you think might be appropriate for your students and doable with materials likely to be available at home. Don’t feel constrained by grade level, particularly in English Language Arts. Many of the AAC ELA tasks can be transported to other grade levels with some minor adjustments for grade-level outcomes. A few tasks are listed at the end of this post that might provide a starting point for your explorations. 

2

Simplify the chosen task as much as is reasonable. A short, simple task will be much more likely to succeed than something complicated and involved. All the tasks and support materials download as word documents, so you can modify them as needed. 

3

Take a look at the rubric. The assessment criteria will give you a good idea of the learning focus of the task. But don’t even think of sending the rubric home to families! Instead, think of how you might turn it into a tool for student self-reflection. For example, you could remove the four levels, provide descriptions that unpack the assessment criteria, and then ask students to identify where their work is strong, and what they might do next to improve it. 

4

Think about which parts of the task are most likely to cause challenges for your students. Many of the tasks come with scaffolding tools that help break down complex thinking skills. In other cases, you might be able to create an organizer or some purposeful questions to help your kids. Anticipate problems, and do your best to get ahead of them. 

5

Set a flexible time frame for the task, and if possible, provide students with some platform through which to share their work and thinking along the way, with you, as well as their peers. Is it possible to provide opportunities for your students to receive feedback, either from you, their peers, or someone at home? The scaffolding tools with many of the tasks have been designed for exactly that purpose.

6

Hmm…we keep mentioning scaffolding tools! You can tell that we value them a lot! Sometimes we call them formative assessment tools. If you haven’t spent much time with scaffolding tools before, this is definitely the time to do so! There are scaffolding templates available to AAC members on the website. If you are not from an AAC member jurisdiction, many of the tasks in middle grades social studies are in the public section and have scaffolding tools that you can adapt for any subject and grade level.

7

Provide a way for parents, guardians, and care-providers to contact you if they have questions. 

8

Encourage students to share their finished projects – audio recordings, photographs, videos, and written work. Celebrate  each student’s contributions, finished or not! Celebrate the parents, guardians, and care-providers for their support and guidance!

9

Normally, we like to see performance tasks that are completely the child’s own work. That’s why we recommend they are done in school. But in this new normal, parents working with children on an engaging learning challenge will yield so much more than a product! Positive parent-child relationships focused on completing a learning challenge will create memories that will last for years. And like we said – it’s not about the grade!

10

We have modified the AAC Terms of Use to allow teachers to post student materials to their electronic classroom portal. This new permission is for individual teachers, not jurisdictions (see pp. 2-3 of the pdf document for details). This is a great time to spread the word within your jurisdiction and take another look at all the great things AAC has available to support effective assessment and learning – especially during this time.

Here are a few performance tasks from the AAC website to get you started. Search by subject and grade at this link. If you are an AAC member, login in first to make your browsing experience easier!

Remember that many of the tasks can easily be adapted to other grade levels, and there are over 250 tasks to explore, from Kindergarten to Grade 12!

  • My Dragon is Lost (Kindergarten ELA): Create a poster for your missing dragon.
  • Lights, Camera, Action! (Grade 1 ELA): Prepare a video preview of a book you’ve read.
  • Animal Sanctuary (Grade 1 Science): Construct a model of a safe place for a rescued animal to live.
  • The Snowman Shop (Grade 2 Math): Make and measure hats, noses, and arms for your shop, and then create snowmen.
  • Fairy Tale Festival (Grade 3 ELA): Create a diorama, comic strip, or illustration representing your favourite part of a fairy tale.
  • EcoCar Challenge (Grade 4 Science): Design, construct, and test a model for a wind-powered vehicle.
  • The Petting Zoo (Grade 5 Math): Create a layout for a petting zoo, with 3 rectangular enclosures.
  • Coming Soon – Class Election (Grade 6 ELA): Gather information about a famous person you would like to nominate as class president.

If you decide to use a performance task with your students, we’d love to hear about the experience. Please feel free to contact AAC anytime. And please, stay safe and connected ‘by a distance’ out there. We are all in this together!

Relationships: That’s What Matters Most Right Now

It’s never been very helpful to argue with kids about homework, and that is especially true right now. With so much uncertainty in the world, it’s no surprise that many kids (and parents, too) are finding it hard to focus on something as ordinary as schoolwork.

We keep hearing that we are all in this together, and it’s true for schoolwork as well. Every student in Alberta has had their year of schooling interrupted. So when the students return to school, teachers will meet students wherever they are at in their learning, and adjust their lessons accordingly.

So while you are working overtime to juggle the demands of working from home and keep everyone in your family healthy and safe, and now you have to worry about how to help your child with their schoolwork, give yourself permission to s-l-o-w- – -d-o-w-n! It’s not a race.

Alberta Education has provided clear guidelines of how much “schoolwork” is expected. https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=69874B5C32DE7-C7B9-FAFF-518A0FF91DCFD41D  And it’s not as much as you might have originally thought. Your child’s teachers will be communicating with you about what they want your child to learn and how you might go about helping them.

Aside from that, take this unusual gift of time and look for ways to make learning an enjoyable part of your child’s everyday life. Here are some suggestions for your elementary aged children.

Literacy

  • Make a “word wall” or picture dictionary, where you can collect interesting and intriguing words you read or hear.
  • Use Scrabble letter tiles (or make some of your own using the back of a cereal box) and then build words together. Make new words by changing just one or two letters.
  • Read a book together, no matter what the age of your child, and wonder about what’s going to happen next, or why a character chose to do what they did.
  • Write a story, taking turns with each word, sentence, paragraph or chapter.
  • Draw a picture together. Let your child take the lead, and do your best to copy each step on your own paper. You can take the lead on the next picture.
  • Look for signs of spring, and start a photo collection of what you find.

Numeracy

  • Measure the dimensions of a room, using steps. Use the dimensions to draw a map.
  • Make a half-batch of cookies together, with your child figuring out how much of each ingredient is needed.
  • Let your child make up a problem for you to solve.
  • Give your child a number and have them find as many ways as they can to arrive at that number. For example, “How many different ways can you make 12?” Your child might want to use materials such as bingo chips or buttons to help them represent different ways to show the number.
  • Play games, and let your child keep score. This is a great way to practice mental math.
  • Talk about the difference between games of skill and games of chance. This can help your child deal more constructively with ‘losing’ at a game of chance. For games of skill, help them learn strategies for improving their skill level. How do you keep track of what cards have been played, or the clues that have been given?
  • When you’re reading a book together, see what page you’re on, and figure out how many pages are left. Decide a number of pages you might read each day, and when you expect to be done. 
  • Estimate the number of words on a page and in the book. Do a word count of a page to help refine your estimate. How close were you to your original estimate?
  • Make a list of where we see numeracy skills being used in the real world.

Ideas for Anytime Conversations

Encourage your child to ask questions. Ask them, “What do you wonder about this?” and support your child by asking good questions yourself. Here’s a list of questions that prompt further conversation.

  • What do you need to know next?
  • What do you notice about this?
  • How are these two things alike? How are they different?
  • Why do you think that happened? What if…?
  • Does this make sense? What makes you think you’re right?
  • Why did you choose to do it this way? What are you going to do next?
  • Can you help me understand this part?
  • Is there another way you could do this?
  • Why do you think this didn’t work? What could you try next?
  • Could you make a question of your own that’s like this one?

It’s all about the learning, and your attitude is so important!

Be positive about learning, be interested in what your child is doing, and be excited when a tough problem is solved or a challenge is achieved. Celebrate success. Provide encouragement. Have a conversation. Find time to have fun together every day, and in doing so, you’ll help keep those important relationships intact.

We’ll get through this together, and who knows, the family time we create might just be one thing that we want to remember from this uncertain time.

Time to Make Lemonade!

Time to Make Lemonade!

It’s been said that when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade. Well, it appears that we’ve been gifted a very large shipment of lemons.

I’m not pretending that things are fine, because they’re not. If any have ever doubted our connection to a worldwide community, there is no question at all anymore.

And I’m not suggesting that we ignore the inconvenience and suffering that this pandemic is causing, because it is real.

At the same time, it can be empowering to find places where we can influence the lives of our students and their families for good. Take assessment for example. In the new normal of distance education and distance assessment, how can we make assessment live up to Rick Stiggins’ powerful vision?

        We need assessment that will… 

  • Encourage, not discourage
  • Build confidence, not anxiety
  • Bring hope, not hopelessness
  • Offer success, not frustration
  • Trigger smiles, not tears

If we consider that assessment is essentially the process of gathering evidence of student learning, we have an opportunity right now to revisit this question:

         How much evidence do you really need to tell you that <insert the name of your student here>             understands/can demonstrate <insert the learning outcome here>?

Perhaps not as much as we might have previously thought. Our carefully thought out assessment plans that we submitted in September won’t work in this new reality. What if we could use this time as an opportunity to move away from a focus on grades to a focus on learning?  Perhaps this truly can be a ‘less is more’ moment for student assessment.

Over the next few days, our AAC team will provide a series of helpful suggestions for teachers to consider as they adapt their regular assessment routines for our new reality.  We encourage you to take the opportunity to try some of those new formative assessment techniques that sounded great in the workshop but might not have been tried in the classroom. Now that we all have a new ‘classroom’, how can we adapt these techniques for online learning and assessment?  

Please take good care of yourselves and your loved ones. Slow down, and look for signs of spring. We can all use a bit of light and hope right now.  

To Fret or Refocus: That is the Question!

To Fret or Refocus: That is the Question!

Ruth Sutton, one of AAC’s long-time assessment friends posed the following question at the Fall 2015 AAC Leadership Day.

How do you hang onto your sanity and your confidence and your resilience and your health when things around you seem to be changing, and not always rationally?

Ruth continued:

In that environment of external change – about which we can do not much – you’ve got some choices. You can either fret about things you can’t control, or you can begin to refocus on the things that never go away.

To say that things are challenging right now, both in the world as a whole as well as in the world of education, would be an understatement. And we have a choice. We can either fret or refocus.

Whether we are teachers or leaders, there is power in refocusing our efforts on improving our understanding and our practice in the area of formative assessment. But with all of the possible areas where we could focus our attention, why choose formative assessment?

Rick Stiggins, another long-time assessment friend of AAC, provided some sobering advice. After recapping the research base in the field of formative assessment, Rick warned that these impressive results were not available if one or two teachers did it some of the time. He emphasized that there needs to be a commitment within a school and a district to these principles of formative assessment.

Formative assessment is not an initiative. It’s not a quiz without a grade, or a bin equal to zero in a digital marks program. When done well, formative assessment is the way we do our work so that we ensure all students are learning. Dylan Wiliam calls assessment the “bridge between teaching and learning.” He continues to remind us that effective formative assessment happens “minute-by-minute” and “day-by-day.” It’s something that never goes away.

In the 1998 publication Inside the Black Box, Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam boldly asked four key questions in regard to formative assessment.

  • Is there evidence that improving formative assessment raises standards?
  • Is there evidence of room for improvement?
  • Is there evidence of how to improve formative assessment?
  • Are we serious about raising standards?

What might our responses be to those same questions today?

Regardless of what transpires in the education sector – new curriculum or not; more large-scale testing or not – no one can ever take away the power that comes to students and teachers when they engage in true formative assessment. No one.

We’ve come a long way on this journey, and while sincerely honouring all the amazing things that are happening in classrooms all across our province, we likely can agree that we’re not quite ‘there’ yet!

So while we continue in a time of uncertainty, let’s consider Ruth’s advice. Let’s refocus on things that matter. The principles of classroom formative assessment make a difference for students.

Stay tuned… AAC is with you on this journey!

It’s the best kept secret!

Whenever we do a workshop , we always showcase something from our fabulous AAC website. Participants are often surprised, because they had no idea the wealth of resources that are part of their AAC membership.

We may be a bit biased, but were pretty confident there’s no better place to access resources to support quality classroom assessment practices for Alberta educators than your good old AAC website! Yeah, we’ve been around for over 25 years, but that doesn’t mean that we’re old school! We keep up with the greats in the world and make sure that our resources and workshops are developed with the Alberta context in mind. 

People who know the value of our work often say that AAC is the best kept secret. We’d like to change that! 

We want you to tell everyone about something you found on the AAC website or learned at one of our workshops that you can’t teach without! Like our 2009 publication Building Better Rubrics for example – a teacher once told us that they can’t build a proper rubric without that book! Or an idea from one of our workshops that changed your perspective on teaching, learning and assessment –  “You mean I don’t have to mark everything?”

What is your most valuable AAC resource or your greatest AAC ‘aha’ moment? Let’s start a conversation on Twitter #AACgold. 

Not sure what’s there? We can help with that too! We have a website tour that you can use by yourself, with colleagues, and in a staff meeting. 

Take the AAC_Website_Tour and then take to Twitter! #AACgold

What’s all the fuss about performance assessment?

Performance assessment is not just a passing fad – it is an essential part of a complete and balanced assessment plan.

Let’s be honest – some outcomes simply can’t be measured by a test or quiz. And just because students need to complete some multiple choice tests during their schooling doesn’t mean that we have to use tests as the default assessment format within our classrooms. We have the opportunity – and responsibility – to help prepare our students for the real world. After all, when was the last time you had to do a multiple choice test within your world of work? For me it was decades ago, but that’s a topic for another day!

Performance assessment provides a way for students to demonstrate skills, processes, and competencies, such as critical thinking and creativity, through open-ended tasks that focus on big ideas from the curriculum.

Chances are you are already using performance tasks, but they may exist within your unit plans as projects. With a bit of planning, you can take your projects to the next level. Here are some tips to make it easier for you and your students!

  1. Start small.
    • Start with something that can be completed in one class period or two. Don’t spend too long crafting the perfect task. Instead, put a prototype in action as quickly as possible, and use the lessons you learn on your next attempt.
  2. Collaborate with your colleagues.
    • Work together to create a good question or prompt for the task, then collaborate at the end to examine student work together and reflect on what you’ve learned.
  3. Clarify the learning destination for yourself.
    • What is the learning that really matters here? Will the task you have in mind actually provide the opportunity to demonstrate that learning? Remember that the details of the mode of presentation may not be the most important part of the task. This may be a shift for the students – and their parents! And be sure to check that the rubric is also measuring those same things that really matter.
  4. Clarify the learning destination for your students.
    • How will you build a shared understanding of the learning goals of the activity? Are students clear on the qualities of excellent work?
  5. Consider the needs of all your students.
    • Does the task have entry points for every student in your class? Will students have opportunities to take the learning further if they’re able?
  6. Provide opportunities for practice and feedback.
    • Students need opportunities to practice, receive feedback, and use the feedback to improve, before you assign a mark to their work. Feedback is a checkup, not an autopsy!
  7. Provide choice whenever possible.
    • This might be choice in the question or topic students are responding to, the way in which they demonstrate their learning, or the types of scaffolding available.
  8. Involve students in the assessment process
    • This might include providing time for students to review exemplars, examine their work in relation to the exemplars, engage in peer feedback and self-reflection on work in progress, and set goals for next steps.
  9. Look for ways to include an authentic audience.
    • Students from another class or grade? Presentation to an outside audience? Work displayed inside or outside of school? Digital sharing of the work? A performance task should connect to, or at least mirror, something within the real world.
  10. Don’t panic!
    • The open-ended nature of performance tasks requires a level of independence and risk-taking that might be unfamiliar to your students. Be patient with them, and with yourself!

 

And here’s one last bonus tip – not everything students do needs to be included in their report card mark. That’s right! When an assessment format is new for students (and perhaps also for their teachers), everyone needs time to learn, reflect, and try again.

 

What opportunities exist for including a performance task within your current unit plan? Give it a try! The results may astound you!

Looking for some ideas? Check out https://aac.ab.ca/materials/.

Does test prep have to look like test prep?

The test is coming! The test is coming! Break out the practice questions and bubble sheets!!

We know that some of our students are required to take large-scale assessments, and that the results matter, to a greater or lesser degree, to students, parents, teachers, schools, and districts. Naturally, we want our students to perform to the best of their ability on these assessments.

So that means lots of practice multiple choice tests, right? Maybe it would be best if we model all our assessments on the format of these exams? And wouldn’t it be helpful if students in the grades leading up to the test years also get lots of practice on multiple choice tests?

Not so fast!

Multiple choice tests have their place. They’re straightforward to administer and easy to grade. They can provide some evidence of learning, especially if you’re assessing a student’s knowledge.

But… there’s danger in over-doing multiple choice – and, the information you can get from a multiple choice test is limited.

They require students to recognize correct responses, rather than create ones of their own.

Students can answer questions about a skill, but that’s different than demonstrating the skill themselves.

Multiple choice questions can tell us if a student got the right answer, but not always how.

They tell us if a student got the wrong answer, but not always why.

They aren’t very accessible to our students who have learning challenges, and the comprehension load means that students whose first language is not English are at a disadvantage.

When you look at a Program of Studies for any subject or grade level, it’s easy to find outcomes that simply are not assessable at all through a multiple choice question. That’s why it’s important that we gather evidence in a variety of other ways.

So, how do we prepare our students to do their best on large-scale assessments? If not lots of multiple choice practice tests, then what?

Here are some review strategies that don’t require students to get hopelessly lost in bubble sheets before the big day.

Debates can help students review big ideas and supporting details on a number of topics, which can be invaluable in preparing for written response questions. This activity can also provide important background information for source based multiple choice items.

Have students work in groups to answer a section of multiple choice items. Ask students to identify the correct answer, and to analyze why the other responses are incorrect. By so doing, they can become familiar with how distractors are embedded within the question design.

Use a jigsaw format to help students review large amounts of content, and then prepare to share what they have learned with other groups of students. Of course, teachers will need to oversee the information to ensure its accuracy before it is shared with other groups. This technique can motivate students to do their best work as they realize the benefits of working together and sharing.

Ask students to deconstruct a higher order thinking sample question to determine the background knowledge required in order to answer the question. Students can work together to develop questions (and answers) based on this background knowledge. These questions can be shared with other groups of students or as a whole class review prior to working to solve the answer to the question.

Game show formats can be used to help students become confident with background information they will need in order to answer more in-depth questions on the test. Be sure that the highest level categories require students to synthesize their knowledge and skills in order to answer the type of questions the curriculum requires and that they are likely to see on the test.

All of the above strategies can be used to help students not only review the content and skills they need to know, but they can also help students learn more about how multiple choice tests are designed. These strategies can help students prepare for the test without adding more anxiety.

And the best part of all – none of these review strategies require additional marking! After all, if a student is anxious about an upcoming large-scale test, and the preparation for the test includes multiple days of practice tests that are marked, we are potentially accumulating more and more evidence of what the student doesn’t know, or doesn’t feel confident to do. Our students don’t need any more anxiety in their lives!

We can change all that – and perhaps even have a bit of fun in the meantime. And who doesn’t need a bit of laughter and true engagement at a time like this?

This term, this year – let’s make test prep not even remotely look like test prep!

Formative Assessment? What’s the big deal?

If you have a child beyond Kindergarten, you’ve probably heard about school assessment being divided into two categories: formative and summative. People may have even explained the difference. But in plain language – why does it matter? Isn’t a grade a grade?

Well, as it turns out, assessment and grades are two different things!

Assessment refers to all the ways in which we try to understand where students are in their learning. Most of the time, the assessment happening in a classroom is on-going and often pretty informal. Teachers need to know how things are going, minute-by-minute and day-by-day, so they can make decisions about what to do next to move their students’ learning forward.

  • They might use a specific question somewhere during a lesson to help them understand where each student is in their thinking. 
  • Students might work, independently or with others, on a series of practice questions. 
  • Perhaps teachers look at a rough draft of a writing assignment, so they can provide helpful feedback. 
  • Or the assessment might happen during an “at elbow” conversation with a student as they work on a task. 

In all of these examples, it doesn’t make sense for teachers to assign a grade. Learning is happening here, and grades can actually get in the way!

The assessment at this point is for the benefit of the teacher and the students, and it is totally “formative”. By that, we mean assessment informs students and teachers so they can make good decisions about what to do next.

Teachers also make decisions about when it’s important or helpful to share some of that formative assessment information with parents, so you can support the learning at home. But it’s important to balance sharing that formative assessment information with the goal of providing students time and space within the classroom to take risks and make mistakes. Students really do need time for learning.

Sometimes, assessment provides evidence that will be used to assign a grade. A grade is our best attempt to measure the learning that has taken place, and it’s assigned at the end of a period of learning. This is referred to as “summative assessment”, and it might take the form of a finished piece of writing, a lab report, a unit test, or a gymnastics routine, to name just a few possibilities. These grades are shared with students, parents, and others who have the right to know.

Limiting the number of summative grades that are assigned to students helps us all keep our focus on the learning, not the grade!

Hey Leaders! Do you know how important your work is?

Hey Leaders! Do you know how important your work is?

Seriously! It’s true.

In a review of the research, Leithwood, Louis, Anderson and Wahlstrom (2004) determined that “…leadership not only matters: it is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning…”

With the new TQS and LQS officially in place, AAC has a fabulous new resource to support you as leaders in having important conversations about – what else but classroom assessment, of course!

This new resource has been developed especially for busy school leaders – like you! This resource:

  • is based on 32 AAC videos that show real teachers and real students engaged in effective classroom assessment – in real schools – like yours.
  • contains background information to help you lead conversations about assessment with your staff.
  • provides a suggested framework for creating a school-based assessment team – a bonus to help broaden the conversation about assessment within your school.


Click to Download PDF

Now that the first round of reporting and conferencing has finished, this is a perfect time to reflect on any assessment questions that were raised throughout that process.

Yes, you can be an instructional leader in assessment! And the reason that matters, is so that we can reach all the students under our care – even the ones who seem difficult to reach.

Check it out! This work was funded through a development contract with the Alberta Teachers’ Association to support implementation of the TQS and the LQS. It’s available to everyone!

Want more information? Contact us info@aac.ab.ca and we can help with ideas on how to make the most of this resource.

Important Conversations… At Any Time of the Year

Report cards, conferences, checking the online parent portal for the latest entry, looking at your child’s test or project rubric – what matters most to you?

Is it your child’s grades? Where they are in relation to their classmates? Or are you more concerned with their attitude toward learning? Where they’re being successful, and where they struggle?

If you’re like me, the one thing you really want to know is that the teacher knows your child as an individual. They understand your child’s strengths and learning needs. They have a plan to help your child keep moving forward. And they see you as a partner in that learning journey.

Teachers communicate with parents in many different ways. When you’re not sure how to approach one of these important conversations, it’s important to see the big picture of your child’s experience in school.

A report card can never tell a complete story about the learning that happens at school, no matter how many grades it includes or how long a comment the teacher writes. It’s simply a snapshot. Some parents have access to their children’s grades online, but again – marks tell only one part of the story!

So be cautious about putting too much focus marks and grades. If everything your child does in class is marked and ‘counts’ towards the report card, where is the time for learning? School should be a safe space where students can learn, make mistakes, receive feedback, reflect on their learning, make adjustments to work in progress, and apply their learning in new situations. As parents, we can step back a bit, and give our children that space.

Instead of focusing on the grades, imagine that your child could select a piece of work to represent their learning – one they are particularly proud of, that shows the growth they have made over time. What could they tell you about their learning journey? It doesn’t matter whether your child earns top marks or faces learning challenges at school. They will benefit from seeing that you believe the growth and learning that has happened, and is still to come, is more important than the grade on a paper or a report card!

Conferences, whatever their format, offer another, often richer, source of information. When you have an opportunity for a conversation with your child’s teacher, come prepared with some questions in mind. Here are some ideas…

  • What do you see as my child’s greatest strength at school? What makes them feel proud and accomplished?
  • How does my child’s skill in ____ (e.g. writing, reading, mathematics, oral language…) compare to where they were 2 months ago? What can we do at home to help them continue to grow in this area?
  • Here’s something we see at home that concerns us: _________. Do you have any ideas that could help us deal with this together?
  • What concerns you the most about my child’s learning? What plans do you have to support them in this area? How can we help support?

Of course there is a place for grades and end-of-year reporting. But often the journey is more important than the destination. Mid-year report cards and conferences should be a time to celebrate the learning to date, and look ahead to the rest of the year. All children deserve a chance to feel proud, confident, and hopeful!

What Do Parents Really Want To Know?

Report cards or progress reports, and parent/student/teacher conferences can be a stressful time, no matter when they take place.

Some parents seem focused on grades. Some want class averages. Some want to know that their child is at the top of the class. Some want to know that their child isn’t at the bottom of the class.

Some want to know that their child is ‘fitting in’.

But no matter how parents present themselves at these conferences, I think most parents really want to know that their child’s teacher knows their child as an individual learner. Does the teacher know their child’s strengths and learning needs? How is the teacher working to help their child? What can parents do to support learning at home?

In preparing for these important conversations, let’s take a page out of social media. It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. What if a teacher took less than 288 characters to explain the grades! What if a student selected a piece of their work to represent their learning? And while we’re at it, how much more convincing could the story of the learning journey be from the perspective of the student?

Marks only tell part of the story.

School should be a time for learning. If everything a student does in class is marked and ‘counts’ towards the report card, where is the time for learning? School should be a safe place where students can learn, make mistakes, receive feedback, reflect on their learning, make adjustments to work in progress, and apply new insights to the next learning event.

Of course there is a place for summative grades and end-of-year reporting. But often the journey is more important than the destination. As adults we recognize this within our own lives. We need to allow students that same opportunity. Mid-year report cards and conferences should be a time to celebrate the learning to date, and look ahead to the rest of the year.

Think about a student that you worry about. Maybe this is the year that student gains confidence and hope. This video by Rick Stiggins might provide an opportunity to think about how you can use formative assessment to support the vulnerable students in your class this year.

Assessment to support vulnerable students

Watch it yourself, share it with a colleague, and then talk about how what this could mean for your students this year.

We’ve all taught vulnerable students. I only wish that I had known about formative assessment when I started my teaching career. And while none of us can go back, we can all go forward.

Formative assessment is a powerful way to help students learn and to be motivated to learn. And at the end of the day, isn’t that really what we all want for our students?

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AAC Regional 2019 Spring Symposia

Attention K -4 Teachers and Leaders!

Confident, Healthy and Hopeful:

Assessment to Support Our Youngest Learners

Katie White

Assessment decisions that teachers make every day have a profound impact on our students, and this is especially true for our youngest learners.

Katie White will share her experience with integrating learner centered assessment practices within new curricula. Participants will have an opportunity to work in grade level teams to create an assessment framework for a set of learner outcomes from the new K – 4 Alberta Curriculum.

This is a perfect opportunity to consider the kind of classroom assessment practices that will empower our students and fuel hope.

Speaker Bio

Katie White has been a K- 12 classroom teacher, learning coach, and school and system leader. She is currently Coordinator of Learning for the North East School Division in Saskatchewan. Through her work at the system level, she was an integral part of her school division’s multiyear journey through renewed curricula and outcome-based assessment and reporting. This work led her to develop an integrated understanding of the relationships among curriculum, assessment, instruction and learning. Her work with educators supports both a holistic understanding of learners and how they interact with our school systems, alongside an in-depth refinement of practices that support teaching and learning in classrooms.

Katie also works as an educational consultant and is the author of two resources published under the Solution Tree label: Softening the Edges: Assessment Practices That Honor K-12 Teachers and Learners and Unlocked: Assessment as the Key to Everyday Creativity in the Classroom.

Date

  • Tuesday, April 16, 2019 in Calgary

Agenda

      8:00 am Continental Breakfast and Registration
      9:00 am Keynote: Katie White
      12:00 pm Lunch (provided)
      1:00 pm Keynote: Katie White
      3:00 pm Conclusion

AAC Member ‘Early Bird’ Fee: $225.00 (valid until February 28, 2019)
AAC Member Fee: $250.00
Non-Member Fee: $375.00

 This link will take you to the Eply registration form.

 Register Now!

Communicating and Reporting

Many jurisdictions have revamped their reporting systems over the past several years. Whether a jurisdiction is creating a new reporting system or reviewing an existing system, many variables and multiple audiences need to be considered. This project was developed in collaboration with AAC member jurisdictions.

This online resource is organized around the following topics. Click the links below to access the video and print resources within each section.

PLEASE NOTE: We are still moving content over to our new site. The videos will be available soon. Thanks for your patience.

Click here to access a pdf document of this resource.

This resource contains over 50 videos which are part of the AAC member collection. Member login is required to access the videos.

Acknowledgements

The Alberta Assessment Consortium (AAC) would like to acknowledge the contribution of the following individuals for sharing information about communicating and reporting student learning in their school/jurisdiction.
 Jill Alexander Teacher, Foothills School Division
 Lois Gluck  Supervisor Curricular Services, St. Albert Public
 Linda Inglis  Former Principal, G.H. Luck School
 Janice Ottewell  Teacher, Foothills School Division
 Dorothy Paszkowski  Teacher, Foothills School Division
 Bryan Szumlas  Director Instructional Services, Calgary Catholic
 Colin Woelfle  Consultant, Edmonton Public Schools
AAC would also like to acknowledge the contribution Ken O’Connor has made in heightening awareness of the important principles of communicating about student learning.

Assessment and a New Alberta Curriculum

Curriculum and assessment are inseparable. While it’s true that assessment must be an accurate reflection of the curriculum, it’s also true that curriculum must be written in such a manner as to support effective assessment practice. AAC invites you to consider 3 key things when looking at the new curriculum ‘through the lens of assessment’. Assessment and a New Alberta Curriculum (Download PDF)

Effective Classroom Assessment Cohort Series

Every Alberta teacher and leader needs this course!

Two-year program for teachers and leaders • Consistent with the new LQS and TQS
• Collaboration with like-minded professionals in your region
• In-person seminars with follow-up to your classroom/school context
• Supports assessment with existing and new curriculum

Regional Cohort Registration for 2018-2019

For more information and seminar dates click here to download pdf.

Registration Now Open!

Excellent PD! Your knowledge of balanced assessment will definitely grow. You’ll be given time to reflect and time to share. Be prepared to have your thinking challenged - in a good way!
— Mary Lynn
After teaching for 25+ years, it feels good to learn more and be motivated (enthusiastic) in my teaching. Some of the best PD I have done in assessment.
— Cathy
All our discussions were clearly focused and expertly guided with ample time for reflection and sharing. We had to think deeply which was excellent. Highly recommended.
— Joanne
Previous
Next

Leaders Year 1

  • 2-day cohort experience
  • Prepares participants to apply principles of assessment leadership within the school

Leaders Year 2

  • 2-day cohort experience
  • Prepares participants to expand the impact of their instructional leadership

Teachers Year 1

  • 3-day cohort experience
  • Prepares participants to apply principles of assessment within their classroom context

Teachers Year 2

  • 3-day cohort experience
  • Prepares participants to lead collaborative conversations with peers

 

PLEASE NOTE: The exact location within each region will be determined based on registration. If you would like to host the seminars in your jurisdiction, please contact Jennifer at info@aac.ab.ca or call the AAC office at 780-761-0530

More testimonials from participants

This project gave me the time, space and mentorship to critically assess my own assessment practices and pedagogy. I feel both validated and motivated to continue my own learning journey. — Chelsie

The facilitator established an environment where we felt comfortable sharing even the most controversial ideas. There was never any judgment. — Geoff

The facilitator did a great job breaking open the assessment process in manageable chunks. I am extremely excited to share my learning with others. — David

Absolutely awesome! Loved the professional conversation. Helped facilitate conversations at our school. — Kirsten

Amazing conversation around assessment and teaching. Opportunity to work with colleagues from varied backgrounds and teaching experiences. Inspires thinking and questioning of my own practice. — Shauna

This is a great opportunity to look closer at assessment practice. Whether you are brand new or a veteran, it is always great to have a refresher. — Jason

These sessions were great. It was very interesting to dig into what the outcomes are asking. The discussions around formative assessment were very thought provoking. Wish all teachers could do these sessions. — Sharon

This experience really made me think of my own assessment practices and re-evaluate what I thought I was doing well. This session would be great for all teachers to attend. — Shannon

Great professional discussions and dialogue around assessment that I will carry into my practice. — Jenny

The conversations during the cohort were invaluable. My thinking was always pushed and I enjoyed hearing the many different opinions and viewpoints from colleagues. — Tausha

Good practical work embedded into each session that you can use immediately and adapt to your job assignment. — Holly

Safe place to refine a message about assessment practices in order to help others move along the continuum. — Shelley

Rich conversations that helped the individual participants, as well as the group as a whole, to reflect on the purpose and impact of assessment on students. Time to focus on making conscious assessment decisions. — Jill

It is intense and very self-reflective. Gives you the knowledge to create more accurate assessments, which actually makes teaching/assessing/planning easier. — Dallas

Being part of the cohort provided opportunities for thought-provoking conversation and professional reflection. I also know where to access assessment resources. This was an extremely valuable and practical PD opportunity. — Lauren

It’s an opportunity to shift paradigms and challenge the status quo. It makes you think and it facilitates teacher/leader growth and change. — David

Excellent PD! Your knowledge of balanced assessment will definitely grow. You’ll be given time to reflect and time to share. Be prepared to have your thinking challenged – in a good way! — Mary Lynn

I loved the opportunity to have time to share ideas, challenge each other, and just talk about assessment. All our discussions were clearly focused and expertly guided with ample time for reflection and sharing. We had to think deeply which was excellent. Highly recommended. — Joanne

I am looking at instruction and assessment in different ways. After teaching for 25+ years, it feels good to learn more and be motivated (enthusiastic) in my teaching. Some of the best PD I have done in assessment. — Cathy

Analyze Cause and Effect

Analyzing for cause and effect requires students to go beyond simply summarizing information. Background information is an essential first step, but students must also make connections between and among events, actions or items of information.

Learner outcomes may not always explicitly use the term “cause and effect.” The following language may be used within outcomes to signal the skill of analyzing cause and effect.

Current Curriculum

explain impact of _____ on ______

describe influence of _____ on ______

modify/adapt ____ for the purpose of ______

analyze changes as a result of ______

determine effect of ____ on _______

 

New Curriculum

The following list is a sampling of outcomes from the new curriculum that require students to engage in analysis.

Social Studies 2
Students describe how fairness can affect interactions with one another.

English Language Arts 4  
Students explain how language has the power to influence themselves and one another.

Science 4  
Students explore and analyze how plants and animals have adapted to environmental change over time.

Art 4  
Students analyze and apply artistic choice for the expression and communication of ideas and experiences. 

Math 2  
Students design and test a simple process that achieves a desired outcome.

Wellness 4  
Students describe the cause-and-effect relationship between engagement in physical activity and motivation.

The Competencies of Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Communication are integral to the skill of analyzing cause and effect. Depending on the specific curricular context, other competencies may also be developed.

Teaching the Skill of Analyzing Cause and Effect 'through the Lens of Assessment'

The skill of analyzing cause and effect recurs throughout the grades and subject areas. As such, it is worth spending time to help students develop this skill.  

We can’t always assume that students understand what ‘analyzing cause and effect’ means. Support and feedback are integral to helping students develop this skill over time. Eventually, students will be able to internalize this skill so it becomes part of their repertoire of critical thinking skills.  

While the following instructional strategies have been described within the context of a Grade 5 English Language Arts outcome, they can be easily adapted to other grade and subject areas.

Keep the Task on Track

When designing instruction and assessment, it is important to be clear about what the outcome is asking. Many engaging ideas for student tasks are available on the web; however, teachers need to ensure that the tasks involve students in the skills the outcomes require, and not just the topic of study. 

Let’s Talk about It

Revisit the outcomes in your grade or subject for an upcoming unit. Where do you find examples of analyzing cause and effect? How well does the student task or product you have planned allow the students to demonstrate their skill with analyzing cause and effect? Make a note of things that you think might require adjustment.

Plan Effective Questions and Support with Graphic Organizers

Take time to plan clarifying questions to help guide students to be successful in meeting the learning goal.
 
Graphic organizers can help students focus on the background information that is required in order for them to engage in the analysis. 

Let’s Talk about It

What clarifying questions could you pose to help students focus their responses on analysis rather than simply retelling information? 
How might you modify or develop a graphic organizer to assist students with the skill of analyzing cause and effect?

Rethink the Student Product

The focus now shifts from a specific product to the process of thinking. 
 

Let’s Talk about It

How might you modify or develop a task that would allow students to demonstrate their ability with the skill of analyzing cause and effect?

Assessing the Skill of Analyzing Cause and Effect

When a careful examination of the outcomes has guided instructional planning, the links between instruction and formative assessment can be seamless. It follows that assessment tools, both formative and summative, also must be focused on the desired end goal. 

The following examples of assessing the skill of analyzing cause and effect can be easily adapted to other grades and subjects.

Focus First on Feedback

While students are learning a skill, it is essential that they have feedback on their work while there is still time for them to make improvements. These two sample feedback tools provide a structure for students to engage in conversation and provide feedback to their peers about the skill of analyzing cause and effect.

These tools can be adapted for other grades or subjects. 
 

Grade 7: Social Studies
Peer Coaching Tool: Analyze Histrical Context 
Plains of Abraham Revisited 

Click on image to download PDF. 

Grade 9: Social Studies
Peer Coaching Tool: Analyze Historical Context
Papaschase Land Claim

Click on image to download PDF. 

Let’s Talk about It

Work with grade level colleagues to identify what the skill of cause and effect ‘looks like’ within your grade/subject area. What questions or prompts could you include in a formative feedback tool for an upcoming task to support students in analyzing cause and effect? 

Build a Better Rubric

Rubrics are not just a scoring tool for teachers. A well designed rubric can help students understand what the learning destination ‘looks like’ and guide students to improve their work in progress. 
 
The sample rubric excerpt for analyzing cause and effect is based on  Grade 4 Science outcomes. However, the discussion can be useful for teachers working at all grades and subjects.

Build a Better Rubric for Analyzing Cause and Effect

Click on image to download PDF. 

Let’s Talk about It

Work with a rubric you have used previously, or one that you find through an online search. Adapt the rubric as necessary for an upcoming assignment where students are analyzing cause and effect. How might exemplars work alongside the rubric to help students understand how to improve their work in progress?  

Analyzing Cause and Effect in Action

Are you currently teaching the skill of analyzing cause and effect? Contact us if you are interested in submitting exemplars of your students working with this skill. An AAC facilitator will guide you though the process.

State and Support Position

Stating and supporting a position requires students to take a position on a topic or issue, and then to support that position based on knowledge gained through study and/or research. The issue or topic should be one of substance where diverse perspectives have merit.

Learner outcomes may not always explicitly use the term “state and support position.” The following language may be used within outcomes to signal this skill.

develop and support a position
draw and support conclusions
critically evaluate diverse perspectives
form and support an opinion
to what extent…
state a prediction and hypothesis based on background information
critique
select and defend
 

The Competencies of Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Communication are integral to the skill of stating and supporting a position. Depending on the specific curricular context, other competencies may also be developed.

 

Teaching Students to State and Support a Position 'through the Lens of Assessment'

Stating and supporting a position is a complex skill in which the evidence of learning is more about the quality of the support that students provide for their position than on the specific product students use to communicate their message. 

Teaching this skill ‘through the lens of assessment’ helps students focus on the underlying thinking skills that prepare them to successfully demonstrate this skill. 

Be Curious

Why do some students seem to state and support a position with relative ease, while other students struggle? 

Some students only summarize the topic. Others might list the pros and cons for two different options – essentially comparing and contrasting the options. In both of these cases, students are failing to state a position. 

Perhaps they are afraid to be wrong, and attempt to ‘cover their bases’ with detailed information. What support do these students need to take risks with their learning?

Other students might provide weak support for their argument, and need assistance to strengthen their position. They may need support with accessing additional information, organizing information or understanding perspectives.

Being curious about why students struggle, and seeking to ‘fill in the gaps’ while there is still time to improve, helps to put success within reach for all students. 

Be curious. Listen to what students are saying (or what they’re not saying) to help determine what support they might need for this complex skill.

Let’s Talk about It

Think about a student who seems to struggle with stating and supporting a position. What specific instructional support might this student need? Consider where this additional support might be inserted into the instructional sequence.

Model the Skill

Provide students with a template that outlines the required components for stating and supporting a position. The following template is based on a current Alberta Grade 6 Social Studies outcome.

Athenian democracy (was/was not) fair and equitable because                 .

The following response could be generated through a class discussion. 

Athenian democracy was not fair and equitable because you must be a citizen to participate. There were strict rules about who could be citizen, so not very many people were able to participate in the democratic process.

To help the students understand that both positions are plausible, a similar response could also be generated for the opposite point of view. 

Emphasize, however, that the goal is not to support both positions, but to select a position and to provide convincing support for the selected position.

Brainstorm with students a list of qualities for strong supporting evidence. The sample feedback tool (in the adjacent column) provides an example of these qualities with the social studies context described above. The tool can be modified for other subjects and grade levels. 

Grade 6 Social Studies: 
Peer Coaching Tool: Develop and Support Position 
Democracy or Not… You Be The Judge 

Click on image to download PDF.

Let’s Talk about It

Where in an upcoming assignment could you model the skill of stating and supporting an opinion? What are the qualities of strong supporting evidence within your grade/subject area? Plan to work with students to help them understand and demonstrate these qualities in their work. 

Assessing the Skill of Stating and Supporting a Position

Effective instruction and formative assessment experiences help prepare students to be successful with summative assessment.

They’ll Know It When They See It

Exemplars can be a powerful way to help students internalize the quality of work required. Exemplars can be gathered from student work from prior years and/or samples of current student work in progress. 

Working with peers provides an additional safety net while students are learning about the skill.

Let’s Talk about It

What support will students need to make the transfer from recognizing various levels of quality in a collection of exemplars to accurately reflecting on their work in progress and making the necessary adjustments to improve their work? 

Think Beyond the Essay

It’s true that some provincial exams require a written response, and it’s important to help students be as successful as they can with that format. However, time spent helping students internalize the skill of stating and supporting a position may be more beneficial than focusing on details of a formal written response, especially for students who struggle with written expression. 

The quality of students’ thinking can be evident, even with less than perfect written expression. Provincial rubrics reflect this, emphasizing the quality of the ideas and organization over the mechanics of communication. 

That’s not to say the we should abandon efforts to support students to improve written expression. However, a balanced approach to classroom assessment can keep the focus on developing the skill rather than on the exam. 

Learner outcomes specify what the student need to demonstrate. Unless the outcome specifically requires students to respond in writing, it may be appropriate for students to respond in a different format.

Let’s Talk about It

Think of a student who struggles with written expression. How might the option for an alternate summative assessment format support this student to focus on the skill of stating and supporting a position?  

Build a Better Rubric

It’s important that the rubric helps students understand the learning destination and what quality work looks like.

Compare the non-example rubric with the preferred rubric to see how a rubric can be designed to help students understand and work towards the big idea of stating and supporting a position.

 

Build a Better Rubric for Stating and Supporting a Position 

Click on the image to download PDF. 

Let’s Talk about It

Examine a rubric from a past or upcoming assignment where students are required to state and support a position. Consider what modifications might be required to ensure the rubric supports students as they work to demonstrate the required skill. 

State and Support a Position in Action

Are you currently teaching the skill of stating and supporting a position? Contact us if you are interested in submitting
exemplars of your students working with this skill. An AAC facilitator will guide you though the process.

Summarize

The big idea of summarizing requires students to capture the essence of a text, experience or event and relate it in a condensed format. Summarizing is a skill that students require in any subject area where they work with information.

Learner outcomes may not always explicitly use the term “summarize.” The following language may be used within outcomes to signal the skill of summarizing.
retell
describe
explain
paraphrase
identify beginning, middle and end
record or represent key facts and ideas in own words
 

The Competencies of Critical Thinking, Managing Information and Communication are integral to the skill of summarizing. Depending on the specific curricular context, other competencies may also be developed.

Teaching the Skill of Summarizing 'through the Lens of Assessment'

It can be challenging to condense a large amount of text into a summary. An effective summary needs to follow the Goldilocks principle – not too detailed, not too vague, but just right. 

Many students will likely need help in knowing how to determine what the main ideas are and how to build in effective transitions between their key points. Thinking about the end goal while planning instructional activities can assist in reaching those students who need some extra support to be successful.

Clarify the Learning Destination

Provide a sample of two different summaries based on a familiar story. One summary should be too succinct, missing the big ideas and leaving the audience wondering what the story was about. Another summary should be far too long and include too much extraneous detail.

Ask students to compare the two summaries. Work with students to generate a list of qualities of an effective summary.

This activity could be adapted to the content areas where students may need to describe a procedure or provide the historical context of an event.

Let’s Talk about It 

How would you describe the qualities of an effective summary within the subject and grade you are teaching? Having these ideas in mind will assist you in leading a conversation with your students.

Be sure that the list you generate with your students is in keeping with what the outcome is asking, and doesn’t include extraneous factors.

Provide a Graphic Organizer

The specific design of a graphic organizer will depend on several factors, including the grade, subject area and students’ experience with summarizing.

Not all students will require a graphic organizer. On the other hand, providing a graphic organizer as an instructional strategy should not automatically lead to the resulting summative product being assessed as of lesser quality than work produced without an organizer. 

The graphic organizer samples show how an organizer can be modified to focus on the specific need a student has.

Graphic Organizer Samples for Summarizing

Click on image to download PDF.

Let’s Talk about It 

Think of a student who struggles with summarizing. Where could a graphic organizer be used to support this student with an upcoming assignment?

Model a Feedback Process

Select a sample of a student work from a previous year, a sample willingly provided by a current student, or a sample of your own writing to replicate a summary that is at a ‘not yet’ level of quality.

Even when feedback is being provided to one student, other students may be able to use that feedback to recognize gaps in their own work and independently make adjustments.

Let’s Talk about It 

Where could you model a feedback process for a summary in an upcoming lesson?

Assessing the Skill of Summarizing

Assessment includes both formative and summative experiences. Formative assessment is closely linked with instruction. Formative assessment helps prepare students to be successful with summative assessment. 

Look through a New Lens

It’s often difficult to see the gaps in our own writing because we know what we intended to include. A peer can provide helpful feedback, even if they are not familiar with the context.

The perspective of a peer can be invaluable in helping students discover gaps in a summary. 

Let’s Talk about It 

Where could peer feedback be used in an upcoming assignment to help students improve the quality of their summaries?

Formative Feedback Tools

The following feedback tools have been developed as part of AAC performance assessment tasks, and can be easily adapted to any grade or subject.

Rather than asking students to determine a level of performance, the first  feedback tool describes the goal of an effective summary.  It is designed to help students work with peers to identify any gaps in the student’s work.

The second feedback tool provides a place for a reviewer (classmate, older student, parent, teacher) to ask questions about the content the student has provided in a storyboard for a comic strip. Questions from the reviewer can help the student recognize gaps in their work at a time when the student can use the feedback to improve their work.

Grade 6 Social Studies
Peer Coaching Tool: Describe Structure and Function:
Describe Roles and Responsibilities

Click on image to download PDF.

Storyboard Planner and Feedback Tool

Click on image to download PDF.

Let’s Talk about It 

Where could you insert time for feedback as you plan for an upcoming student assignment? Be sure to provide time for students to act on the feedback they have received.

Offer Choice – Even in Summative Assessment!

Unless the learner outcome specifically requires students to provide a summary in writing, teachers should be prepared to find other ways for students to demonstrate their understanding. 

 

Let’s Talk about It 

Think about a student who struggles to summarize information in writing. How might a choice of format assist this student to demonstrate their understanding? How can teachers ensure that performance standards remain consistent when differentiating the format?

Build a Better Rubric

It’s important that students understand that an effective summary is not about how long the summary is but rather about how well the summary has captured the key ideas. 

Compare the non-example rubric with the preferred rubric to see how a rubric can be designed to assess a summary.

 

Build a Better Rubric for Summarizing

Click on image to download PDF.

Let’s Talk about It 

How might exemplars help teachers, students and parents understand the levels of quality described in the rubric?

Summarizing in Action

Are you currently teaching the skill of summarizing? Contact us if you are interested in submitting exemplars of your students working with this skill. An AAC facilitator will guide you though the process.

New AAC Publication Now Available!

Assessment Conversations: Engaging with Colleagues to Support Student Learning

This new AAC resource has been ‘made for Alberta’. It is a practical resource that every system leader, school leader and teacher can turn to for background information, answers to perplexing assessment questions, and concrete ideas for moving assessment practice forward in classrooms, schools and jurisdictions. 

This publication has been written with the new professional practice standards in mind. Consider this newest AAC resource to be an integral part of planning for implementation of the new standards – for teachers, school leaders and system leaders. 

Available Now from the AAC Store!

Save the GST until May 31.

Public Assurance Discussion Paper

A New Look at Public Assurance: Imagining the Possibilities for Alberta Students

Alberta has much to gain by ensuring that our young learners acquire the requisite knowledge, skills and attitudes to ensure a solid foundation for future learning. Yet how can we know that students are ‘ready’ for grade four? Is it possible to design alternative assessments that can both support learning and at the same time, assure the public that Alberta students are receiving a high quality, world class education? It is the view of the Alberta Assessment Consortium (AAC) that it is not only possible but highly desirable. Assessment authors and researchers from around the world agree.

A review of international research citing the limitations of large scale accountability systems, followed by a proposed new model of public assurance, tailored for the Alberta context.

New AAC Publication Available Soon!

Assessment Conversations: Engaging with Colleagues to Support Student Learning

 

Designed for formal school and system leaders, as well as for those performing a variety of teacher leadership roles, this resource supports sound classroom assessment practices within the Alberta context.

Background information, AAC resource listings, and discussion questions are included to guide conversations with colleagues.

This resource provides school and system leaders with practical support for meeting professional standards relative to instructional leadership in assessment.

 

Available March 2017 – just in time for professional learning planning for next year!

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