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Sunday, 17 February 2013

Are you a primary teacher? Do you wonder if AFL can make a difference?

A few months ago I had the opportunity to celebrate the successful defense of Nancy Barr's thesis. She is a primary 
teacher in Saskatoon. She focused her research on primary children and their growing ability to articulate their 
understandings of writing. It is a fascinating qualitative study. It clearly shows the difference that assessment for 
learning can make for learning. I encourage you to enjoy it. It is available online.
I am including the abstract below.

All my best,

PS If you have a study that focuses on assessment for learning, please send me the link! 
I would enjoy the chance to read it.

By Nancy Barr


In this qualitative study, I investigated six grade 1 and 2 children’s change in their articulation about the quality of their writing throughout one school year of exposure to Assessment For Learning. The Assessment For Learning strategies included giving and receiving feedback, co-creating assignment criteria, one-on-one and small group conferences, and articulating work with peers and teacher, as well as considering work samples from previous students, supported student writing. In addition, writing samples were analyzed to search for authenticity in what students were saying about their writing and about what makes good writing. The research questions that I was investigating were: 1. In what ways do students articulate their understanding of accomplished or needed improvements in their written work? 2. In what ways is this articulation related to implemented Assessment For Learning practices? Research methods involved both naturalistic inquiry and grounded theory analysis. Data included a semi structured interview, used at the beginning and end of the school year; teacher observations; student writing samples; tape recordings of teacher-student (one on one and small group and whole class) conversations; and samples of student developed criteria. Transcripts were read and re-read to develop themes, searching for how the selected six students articulated their understandings of quality writing. In addition, writing samples were analyzed to search for authenticity in what students were saying about their writing and about what makes good writing The six children were chosen for maximum variation on beginning ability, and gender. Of the six students, all began, in September, by talking about appearance of writing – neatness, spaces between words, etc. By November, they were talking about quality of words, length of sentences, and were articulating methods for improving their spelling, and increasing sentence and story length. By June, the high achieving boy was talking about quality writing having “to make sense”. In this study, the boys improved as much, or more, as the girls. Although no generalizations can be made from such a small qualitative study, this is an unexpected outcome. An important finding of this study is the link between children’s ability to articulate about quality writing from having participated in Assessment for Learning principles, and their ability to regulate their own learning (self-regulated learning). Theory derived from this study points to a relationship between Assessment For Learning and self-regulated writing activity.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Why don't we involve learners in assessment more often???

Who knows! There are so many benefits! But if you don't know why... then you don't do it.... and you and your students don't see the results.
If you just want to help people make this change, consider this....
Many years ago I learned about a wonderful adult learning strategy that involves having participants be part of a "clapping class" with students, teachers, and criteria. Recently the video clip of Sandra Herbst working with a group and doing the clapping activity was featured as one of our blog entries. I want to share the following email from a colleague in Saskatchewan:

"We have been using the clapping activity in many of our schools this fall. I would love to share with you about a wonderful morning we had a few weeks ago.

We were with a K-12 staff who is looking deeper into self-assessment. We were focusing our time together on setting criteria and self-assessment, using the Knowing What Counts books as our guide. At the end of our time, we introduced the clapping activity. This is a favourite time with staff members – it allows for some craziness and rich interaction while making a powerful point!

Anyway, we were having a lot of fun and there were some amazing clapping performances. After two participants, one of our judges emerged as a bit of a “nitpicky” judge – some of the audience members were feeling a little upset with him. Through a sidebar conversation, we determined it might be nice to have the judge provide an exemplar of what he was looking for. When we asked for an exemplar for our third participant, the “nitpicky” judge was quite reluctant at first but then got into it. He gave a great example of what he was looking for and it turned out what was in his head was
not what he had indicated when helping to set criteria with the other judges.

It ended up being a great conversation starter and the conversation went deeper once we got into the debriefing portion, not only with the judges but with the entire group. The talk went well into the lunch hour (we could smell the pizza) but they just had so much to unpack."

Such great evidence of powerful learning. Enjoy the video clip of Sandra and think about using this learning activity with your learners - parents, colleagues, or students.

All my best,

PS The credit for this clapping activity is hard to trace and therefore credit is hard to give. We did not invent it. We first learned it from colleagues at Rick Stiggins' wonderful summer conference in the early 1990s.

PPS Happy Valentine's Day! Enjoy a day appreciating the love and beauty that surrounds us :-)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

What about Fredericton, NB in Atlantic Canada?

YES! Fredericton!! The week of August 12 - 16, 2013... two Institutes! For Leaders. Teacher leaders. School leaders. System leaders. And, you can turn it into a university credit course if you choose.

Usually we do our Canadian summer events in the Comox Valley so it is exciting for us to be off to other places.... like Fredericton, New Brunswick! My grandparents had a farm close to Woodstock, NB so I'm kinda, sorta going home :-)

In partnership with the University of New Brunswick, we are offering two
2½ day Institutes in August. You can find out more here. Here's the first page of the brochure.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Do you want to join us this August?

We are really excited about our two summer events in Canmore, Alberta!
We have one Institute focused on constructing assessment plans.
And, we have a second one focused on engaging learners from the first days of school.
Do you want to find out more?
The brochure just got finished.
Have a look!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

What is the target wording? I want to use it with Grade 1's.

Last week the Kelowna Summit focused on supporting vulnerable learners. It was a great success. I enjoyed the research that was shared, the conversations that occurred, and the renewed commitment to support all our learners. Today I received an email from a primary teacher. She had a question about one of the ideas I shared. I thought I would share my response with others. Here is the thread....

Hi Anne,
I saw you speak on Friday and I really enjoyed it.  I realize that I need to have my grade ones assessing themselves more. I really liked your target examples but can't remember the wording that was in the targets. I was wondering if you could send me a sample?

Thank you,


Hi Niki,

Thanks for your note. The target was...

Right on
Working on It
Needs Improvement

I first saw this in the Edmonton Catholic School System in 2001. A teacher from each level shared the way they were using it to help students self-assess. This photo is the one Lisa McCluskey used. 

Sometimes people use symbols. Donna Cunningham talked about using....

Flying pig

Walking pig
Sleeping pig...

And that was high school. Really! And it worked for her! :-)



Hi Niki,

PS   One quick note... the self-assessment will go a LOT better if you co-construct criteria first.

For example,

What do good readers do?
What do good writers do?
What's important in a journal entry? You choose the question - it is about whatever you want students to know, do, and be able to articulate.

As they respond just record what students say. Make a list. Try to record it the way they say it (it is also a language development opportunity). I'm including some examples for you from the video clips I shared:
The reading example is from Jennifer Flight's Grade One classroom. The writing example is from Sue Smith's Grade Two classroom.

Once students have helped to set criteria, then get them engaged in doing. (Note: If you decide to skip the student involvement part you can expect this process to only work for your most able learners.) If you want to learn more about this process, read Setting and Using Criteria.

Then, when they are part-way through the task, stop them and ask them to tell a neighbour one thing they are doing that shows they are good.... whatever it is. Then, when they are done have them again tell a neighbour.

I would take a few days to have students involved in "telling" their self-assessments to other students and to you. Then, they can "show" their proof of meeting a specific idea listed on the criteria sheet (either in the work samples or by role playing the actions).

Then, take the self-assessment to paper. Remember, when working with vulnerable learners, teachers need to be very conscious of the gradual release of responsibility...  the deliberate move from me (the teacher), to we (all of us together) to me (students becoming independent).

Let me know if you have more questions. They help me know what is helpful to share :-)


PS  To save time and the environment, some primary teachers have stamps made with the 'target' on it. Then children simply stamp near the work they want to show for their self-assessment... then they just colour in the section on the stamp print on their work. They can also use the same colour to highlight the evidence in their work. They can stamp just about anywhere on their work (it saved a lot of copying and taping/gluing).

Friday, 1 February 2013

Is Working in Small Groups NOT WORKING?

For many teachers here in North America the year is almost half over. Our colleagues on semester systems are just beginning their second chance for a great year :-) while some of our elementary colleagues, who were hoping students would return from Christmas more ready to learn, are looking for  ideas to improve the learning between now and the end of the year. While hope is a good thing, it isn't enough. For those of you struggling with small group work, let me make a few suggestions from an assessment point of view:

1. Ask students what's important when working as a group. List the ideas... without editing.

2. Give students a brief task to do in a group. Sorting a bin of items, composing a collection of words, or solving a word problem (don't make it too tough) - something that can be done in 2 -3 minutes. Afterwards, ask students if they noticed something else that is important when working in a small group. Add to the list.

3. Have one student in the group talk about what they did on the weekend, last night, at the last recess, and so on.  After listening, each student needs to say one thing that that reminds them of - a connection they are making.  Continue so that each student can share a memory of a recent event. This helps students practice active listening.  It can also serve as a foundation to the work that we have to do in literacy, as we have students connect text to self.

4. When finished, ask students what else was important when working in a small group. Add to the list.

The next time you plan to have students work in small groups, begin by reviewing the list they developed earlier. You might consider adding one or two more things to the list explaining why they are important when working in a small group.

Then, prior to small group work beginning, publicly appoint a student observer for each group. Consider selecting students who need to see what working in a small group looks like and sounds like. Give the observer two things to watch for and a clipboard on which to make notes. Tell them, while all students are listening, that their job is to be observers and to report to the large group one compliment and one suggestion from the list for improvement.

Keep small group working time short. Be sure to end it before it "goes off the rails." When the group work ends, take time to have the observers report out one compliment for the group they were observing and one thing they might work on to be even better. Treat all the observations made respectfully. Collect the observation notes and add them to your observations. They are observations; they are data.

Later, when you are about to have students working in small groups, take time to review the list. Appoint different students to be observers and to report out. Ask different students to observe different things. Give them 'official-looking' clipboards to use. Treat their observations as 'official' observations that go into your evidence collection.

Once students have begun to work independently it is time to add any remaining ideas to the list of what makes effective small group work. These ideas may be collected over days or weeks or months depending on the challenges present in your class. Once the list is comprehensive, have students work together to sort the ideas into groups of similar ideas. Then, ask students to work together. 

It is worth getting small group work right in classrooms. We know from 21st century skills that our students are going to need to work with others. We also know that they need to work with others RIGHT NOW because they can be great resources for each other. And that means everyone learns more.

All our best,

Anne and Sandra

PS These ideas and strategies are based on ideas found in Setting and Using Criteria by Kathleen Gregory, Caren Cameron and Anne Davies. We will be exploring ways to use these ideas in our August Institutes.Join us in Canmore, Alberta (near Banff) and Atlantic Canada! We are looking forward to once again working with a terrific group of educators!