A Conference Chair’s Reflection

Submitted by Bernie Van Doninck


It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost six months since the CAFLN conference in Dartmouth and that there is still so much energy here as a result of this event.  On a personal note I want to extend my deepest gratitude to everyone who attended. Equally so, I humbly thank the members of the CAFLN executive for inviting me to be a part of this great organization.  As conference chair, I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to see the conference to fruition – especially since, due to circumstances beyond our control, it was almost the conference-that-wasn’t! However with patience, flexibility, perseverance, and a committed planning committee, a great event came to pass. Whew!!

I still can’t stop talking about the keynote; it was simply superb! But I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that the initial idea was more than a little risky. The implementation had to be just right.  If I may digress for a moment, Mike Rutherford, formerly of Genesis and Mike and the Mechanics, talks about “locale memory” being one of the talents of the “Artisan Teacher”.  Simply put it’s that innate ability, intentional and unintentional, of a teacher to maximize the use of space to support the retention of learning. I mention this because I can still remember every detail of the night the keynote was born, over dinner at The Bicycle Thief restaurant, with critical friends, Geoff Cainen and Lorna Earl. I know with certainty that somewhere in a drawer in my house there is still a napkin on which I wrote down notes and details.

Our goal was to illustrate how a performance task – in this case, a musical performance – can provide the most concrete example of the explicit practice/feedback cycle that is foundational to assessment for learning.  All too often, I hear that performance assessment cannot be replicated in academic subjects. I couldn’t disagree more. And so a call to action at this year’s conference was to invite delegates to apply performance assessments to all subjects. This began as a challenge, issued to delegates through the keynote, to apply all elements of assessment for learning to their own, individual contexts. The breakout sessions extended this challenge throughout the day.


So what did we actually witness during the unique “keynote” session?  We witnessed a master teacher demonstrating both content knowledge and exemplary instructional skills; we witnessed the use of clearly articulated learning goals and performance criteria; we witnessed a teacher setting the highest of expectations for his students; we witnessed those students demonstrating critical evidence of their knowledge and skills; we witnessed the exemplary use of feedback to improve students’ performance; and we witnessed a deep, respectful relationship between teacher and students.  And the result?  Total student engagement in learning, as well as high levels of achievement.


The exemplary teaching demonstrated that morning in Dartmouth reflected the constant cycle of modelling, practice and feedback.  As CAfLN founding member Damian Cooper teaches us, “plan, teach, assess” and repeat.


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