President’s Fall Message

Damian Cooper - Portrait

Dear CAfLN members,

Sitting on my deck this Labour Day, I’m thinking about the words of Tom Allen, CBC Radio 2’s afternoon host, who last week described tomorrow as the “real New Year” for so many Canadians.  Certainly, as educators, the day after Labour Day typically brings many more new beginnings than January 1st.  Meeting a new group of eager – we hope! – students, welcoming new teachers into our school, perhaps opening a new school, or maybe sending your own children off to the first day of the academic year – in our roles as teachers and parents, tomorrow is truly a fresh start.  I can’t believe that after 37 years as an educator, I still experience school dreams during the last week of the summer holiday! Once a teacher, always a teacher!

To prepare for the coming year, most of your CAfLN Executive and Directors travelled to Lorna Earl’s cottage last week for a planning retreat.   The 3-day event opened with Friday’s question, “Where are we?” On Saturday, we tackled the question, “Where do we want to be?” Sunday was devoted to action plans as we tackled the challenges of “How do we get there?”

Here is a brief list of some of the topics we discussed and decisions we made:

  • To assist with the growth of CAfLN regionally, a “toolkit” will be developed for the regional representatives. This will provide both information about the network, as well as suggestions and processes to assist these representatives with expanding CAfLN’s local influence.
  • We will continue with monthly live Twitter chats but will explore a variety of formats in an effort to deepen the conversations. The first chat for this year will occur on September 13th, 8 pm EDT time.
  • The website will be redesigned to improve its look and user-friendliness.
  • The “Research and Resources” pages on the website will be expanded and updated regularly.
  • A research committee will be struck to investigate how CAfLN can support Canadian assessment research.
  • CAfLN will endeavour to increase the number of members who share their work at future symposia and conferences.

This leads me to our Spring Conference and Symposium which will take place in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  The date and conference theme will be announced on the CAfLN website by the end of September.

So as this new school year begins, I invite all of you to invite two of your colleagues to join CAfLN to discover how high-quality assessment is one of the most effective tools we have to increase learning for ALL of our students.  Have a great year and hoping to see you in Halifax!

Damian Cooper

President, Canadian Assessment for Learning Network

Hacking Assessment : 10 Ways To Go Gradeless In a Traditional School

Hacking AssessmentA Book Review by Denine Laberge

Many parents and educators will argue that “This is the way we’ve always done it and it isn’t broken!” To this, Starr Sackstein offers some sound advice, “… the world has changed in the last hundred years and … a 19th century system doesn’t prepare kids for the creativity and critical thinking required of the 21st century.”

Starr Sackstein gives her readers something to think about in this quick 131 page read by putting the focus on what matters in assessment. Going gradeless is a big step for many teachers but, as she clearly demonstrates in this book, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Organized into 10 “Hacks”, this book starts at the beginner level, for those thinking about making the switch, and progresses right through to the details of a successful transition to a gradeless school environment. Sackstein addresses concerns that may arise from teachers, administrators, parents and even students, giving sound reasoning to keep the initiative alive.

For me, this book affirmed that I am on the right track in my growth as an educator and learner. For others, it may inspire an awakening of what our real mission as educators is; to lead our students to become independent, responsible thinkers and lifelong learners. The best way to do this is to involve the student in his or her own assessment of learning. After all, who would understand their learning better than themselves?

Learning as a Continuum – Nanoose Bay, BC

Learning is a continuum Pic 1Teachers at Nanoose Bay Elementary School in BC  and teacher candidates from Vancouver Island University at have been developing a writing continuum that can be used by teachers and students to assess progress in writing. Based on the idea that all learning is a continuum coming out of the new BC cuuriculum, the goal was to show the progression of emergent through to fluent pre-adolescent writers and to provide a concrete example as well as a descriptor of what the author demonstrated at each stage of writing.

Peel’s Journey

At the 3rd Annual CAfLN Conference and Symposium, Kristen Clarke from Peel DSB shared her district’s journey of professional development to improve student learning. The innovative thinking and the willingness to think outside the box is wonderful to see. Storified tweets will take you through it. Feel free to check it out!

2016-05-17 Kristen Clarke

The Nanaimo Experience


2016-05-17 Nanaimo Group Kingston

Well, there are some exciting things happening in BC! As part of the 2016 CAfLN symposium, a team of educators (Justin Green, Marcy Boudreau, Joanna Atkinson-Cornthwaite, and Brittany Leonard) shared their journey in networking to enhance the learning experience of their students and the collective professional growth of their teachers. Their blog highlights this growth. The powerpoint includes the main points and some diagrams of their process.

Assessment Reform Group

Submitted by: Paige Fisher

The work of the Assessment Reform group is now hosted on the AAIA, Association for Achievement and Improvement through Assessment, website. Many of the seminal publications often credited for kicking off the AfL movement around the world are located here. You will find the Wiliam and Black “Inside the Black Box” article as well as several other key resources on formative assessment. Just follow the links to the Assessment Reform Group.

Digital Reading

Submitted by: Grant Page

As the membership chair of CAfLN, I have been spending some time searching the internet for contact information of potential members of our network. In doing so, I often am distracted from my original task by websites that speak to AfL. Here are three of those “distractions”:

Unleashing the Promise of Assessment for Learning

Many teachers say that they do “assessment for learning” (AfL), but often their assessment practice does not really reflect the intentions and principles that make AfL powerful. Teachers who understand the “spirit” as well as the “letter” of AfL are continually building their expertise so that they can carefully apply their professional knowledge on a moment-by-moment basis. They are routinely engaged in seeking, reflecting upon, and responding to information from dialogue, demonstration, and observation, with ideas and feedback that are immediate and directed at learning, in real time. These teachers need policy support, organizational structures, and professional development, so that they can use this knowledge and its application to enhance learning for all students. This is the online version of an article written by one of CAfLN’s founders, Lorna Earl, Louis Volante, professor at Brock University and Steven Katz, faculty member in Human Development and Applied Psychology at OISE at the University of Toronto for the Winter 2015 edition of the CEA’s Education Canada.

Assessment for Learning across Canada – Where have we been and where are we are going?

From the same edition of Education Canada, this article discusses the genesis and evolution of assessment for learning (AFL) within Canada and juxtaposes recent developments against the broader international community. The authors also discuss the implications of recent policy shifts, both towards increased accountability and towards incorporating assessment for and as learning into provincial education strategies, and the ongoing tensions that exist between AFL and summative forms of assessment within education systems. Ongoing gaps in the implementation of AFL, due to both practical barriers and the need to develop teacher capacity, do still exist and are being addressed through emerging initiatives across the country to support more effective integration of AFL summarizes the history of AfL in Canada. The article was written by Chris DeLuca, assistant professor at Queen’s University and 2016 CAfLN Conference and Chair along with CAfLN founding member, Lorna Earl, and Louis Volante, professor at Brock University.

Assessing Students’ Affect Related to Assessment for Learning

Published by Rick Stiggins and James Popham, this paper focuses on AfL and student affect or the personal perceptions and predispositions students have about their learning. There is an assessment of the effect of AfL on the way students’ feel about learning. I have used this with my students in middle school as a way to assess my own use of AfL in the classroom. There are three surveys that can be administered to students, a scoring guide and some suggestions for teachers once they have some data. Scoring is easy and teachers can quickly get a sense of how students feel about learning in their classroom.